My five year old daughter has been so excited to go to kindergarten. She will be FINALLY attending the same school as her brother, something she’s never done. So she and I were both looking forward to the day that she was going to visit for an hour.
But then it happened. She melted down. All the way to the kindergarten.
I had made the mistake of assuming that she knew I was dropping her off. Luckily, I mentioned it on the way to the subway. So the next half hour was spent trying to manage the subsequent meltdown while trying to get to the school.
At first, I tried talking to her about how she transitioned into pre-school. She had been so thrilled to go to school that when I dropped her at the camp associated with the school the summer before, she nearly forgot to say goodbye to me.
Her sobbing about my not being at the kindergarten led to a far more productive conversation about how so many things were changing. She cried about how she was going to miss her friends; none of them are going with her. She said that no one at her new school would play Star Wars with her. I assured her that that was not true. One of her best friends was already at the school and loved Star Wars. We talked about how leaving friends behind can be hard but that she doesn’t have to stop seeing them. I pointed out that her brother is on a baseball team with one of his friends from pre-school and attended camp with another friend last year. I told her about my own childhood best friend who I attended pre-school with and then didn’t attend school with again until we were sixteen. We remained best friends and had sleepovers and playdates. My daughter seemed unconvinced.
We talked about ways that she could make the most out of the remaining weeks at school and I reminded her about how we had deliberately set up her camp situation such that she was spending three weeks at her new school, getting to know new friends, and then spending the rest of the summer with her old friends. We agreed to have many playdates with her friends. We talked about how she could invite them to our annual Labor Day party. Though she stopped crying, I worried that her darkened mood would make the separation difficult at the school.
However, despite my error that day, I had done something right a few weeks earlier. We had gone to visit the building and had met the security guard. She had said that she had liked the long garden that led to the door. So I pointed out the garden again, reminded her about the security guard and when we arrived at the kindergarten finally, her eyes were dry and she easily went with the teacher back into the classroom, nearly forgetting, once again, to say good bye to me.
I was spent and it was only 9am.
While she was in the classroom, meeting other kids and seeing the space, I went out to coffee with some of the parents and got to know them. I learned about several kids who liked Star Wars and made sure to introduce them to my daughter when we got back to the school at pick-up.
As we left the building, she skipped down the street, shouting “I love kindergarten! I love kindergarten!” I stared at her in wonderment. Maybe having a plan to still be in touch with her friends and knowing that we were supportive of that allowed her the space to be excited. It’s so confusing for little kids to have the tug and pull of being happy about a new adventure and being sad to leave their friends. It’s something we’ve seen more of from her during our vacations recently. I’ve told her that it’s okay to feel both but that I understood that it could be confusing.
As I have watched her continue to talk joyfully about kindergarten since her visit and occasionally shout “I love kindergarten!” at random intervals, I am relieved that she had her meltdown. It was important for her to recognize and process that part of her emotions so she could go on to this next exciting step. And now I know how I can support her during the transition.
Elana Gartner is a freelance writer and an award-winning playwright. Other articles of hers can be found at Kveller.com, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, Mom365.com, Park Slope Stoop and other publications. She founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which fosters a supportive community for NYC playwrights. More about her playwriting is available at: http://www.elanagartner.com. Elana lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter.