Monday, September 28, 2009

What to do When Your Child Screams and Cries Every Day at Preschool

Some preschoolers have an extremely difficult time transitioning into preschool. It's tough on the child, parents, and teachers.

I got this comment from a reader:
Hi-I saw your article on another site when I was looking for advice with my son who is three and has just started preschool. He isn't normally a really clingy kid, but when we even talk about going to school, he starts to scream and according to his teacher (it's only has 4th time to go) screams and cries for the full 2.5 hours. What do I do?!? I'd love any advice. I don't want to take him out because then he'll never adjust, but is this normal or is he just not ready? Thanks so much!

Here is my response:
Unfortunately for you and his teachers, this is difficult, but not that unusual. I’m going to give you two conflicting answers because I don’t know your child. Think about each knowing that other parents have done both and felt confident in their decisions.

The answer I recommend most is to try to stick it out. I know how tough it is. A couple of things you might try, are to bring him to school during a time when he isn’t in class. For example, if he goes three mornings, bring him in the afternoon or on an off day. Let him show you all around his classroom, pointing out the things that he likes best. Make a big deal about his cubby, his circle time mat, etc. Let him play with you on the playground. If he isn’t anxious because he knows you aren’t going to leave, he may enjoy himself. Then, when you bring him to school the next day, be sure to talk about something specific that he showed you in the classroom. Tell him you can’t wait until he comes home to tell you how he enjoyed it in school.

Also tell him how lucky he is now that he’s a big three year old and he gets to have special time with new friends and new experiences. You have jobs you have to do (pick something he doesn’t like, such as going to a store) and he doesn’t have to go with you to do your job. School is his special time and you are so proud of him because you know it’s a little scary to go to a new place by yourself. Ask him to make you a picture that you can’t wait to hang on your refrigerator. Be sure to ask his teacher to give him time to make that picture. They should also make a big fuss over the special picture he is making just for you.

Ask his teacher if he can bring a blanket, stuffed toy or other comfort item that he’s allowed to keep with him. Slowly his teachers can wean him off of that item. One more thing you can do is have a play date with a child in his class. If he develops a friendship, he might be more excited about playing with this child in school and may look forward to playing with him again after school.

Not to confuse you, but I know another parent who went through a similar situation, and after two weeks she decided to pull her son out of school. She believed he just wasn’t ready yet. He had some speech delays, and she chose to use that year to enroll him in speech. She also formed a play group so he could begin to meet and become friends with the children he would ultimately go to school with. She worked with him on the pre-reading and pre-math skills he would be missing in the three year old program, so he didn’t “fall behind.”

Her son is now in his twenties and she is sure she made the right decision at that time. In fact, she teaches in the same preschool where I teach. If you decide to do this, it won’t be popular among other parents. You need to be strong in your conviction that you are doing the best thing for your child. At three years old, he has plenty of time left for school.

I hope he makes it through successfully and I look forward to hearing from you in a month or so to find out how it went!

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