Almost three months ago, David and I were gearing up for Jackson’s first day of preschool. Now that we have all had time to get used to the new normal, I wanted to share an update about how things have been going. Truthfully, the start was rough. I knew Jackson was going to be resistant after the whole summer at home with me, but I didn’t expect him to be quite as resistant as he was. Given that he had been in two different daycares (both full and part-time) since he was six months old and transitioned relatively easily there, I figured this would be a similar situation, but it wound up being much harder than I had anticipated and caused a lot of anxiety for both of us.
Before Jackson’s first day, we talked a lot about him starting a new school. I wanted him to be as prepared as possible. I tried to play up how much fun it was going to be to get to play on the playground every day, make friends, and learn new things. We also read a ton about preschool, as I mentioned in my last post about my favorite preschool-themed books. Leading up to it, Jackson would say he didn’t want to go to school, but at that point, he wasn’t emotional about it. He even seemed excited putting on his new backpack the morning of his first day and I thought for a minute we might luck out and he would get to school and immediately love it (who was I kidding, I know).
For the first day, all the kids lined up in designated areas on the field outside and then the teachers escorted their classes into the building. Normally parents don’t go inside, but they are allowed to on the first day to help ease the transition. Jackson was apprehensive but okay up until we got to his classroom, where we had to leave him, and then he completely lost it. He wasn’t just crying, but clinging to me and David. At one point, he actually took off and ran down the hall crying, trying to get outside. I went after him and carried him back to the classroom. The teacher had to basically peel him off of us and take him into the class so that we could make our exit. I could hear him screaming “mommy” all the way down the hall on my way to the door, and it was awful. This was not my first time at the rodeo when it comes to separation and I have dealt with my fair share of tears before, but this was by far the worst I’ve experienced. I wound up in tears myself on my way out.
The intense crying and clinging at drop off lasted for about a week (which felt like an eternity). During this time there was also crying in anticipation of school, sometimes in the mornings and once even on a Saturday, which lasted 45 minutes! He would say he didn’t want to go to school and that it scared him (apparently because of the big building, he said). This really concerned me at the time and part of me wanted to pull him out of the program, but I knew from what I’d read that it could take a while for Jackson to adjust and we needed to give it a fair shot. The teacher also reassured me that after a minute or two in the classroom he was totally fine and playing with the other kids, which helped to ease my mind.
Fortunately, after a really tough first week, things started to improve a lot. Jackson would still say he didn’t want to go to school, but he didn’t cry about it, and when it came time to separate at drop off, he went with the teacher without putting up much of a fuss. At some point, he switched from saying he didn’t want to go to school before we left to simply asking if I was going to pick him up. He just wanted reassurance that I was always going to come back for him. I think most of his anxiety in the beginning was related to classic separation anxiety and once he felt confident that I would always return to get him at the end of the day, he started to settle in and accept school.
Now that we’re a few months in, school has become completely routine and Jackson doesn’t resist it at all whatsoever. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he LOVES it, and I can’t get him to tell me much about his days–he’s like a teenager!–but he isn’t fighting it, and that’s good enough for me right now. I know his days are filled with lots of play and learning based on the updates and pictures I get from the teacher. And he gets to spend time with other kids his age. All in all it seems like a great program and I’m happy we enrolled him.
If you have a kid starting preschool in the near future and have anxiety about it like I did, I hope my experience offers a little reassurance. We had a very bumpy start, but now we couldn’t be happier. Most kids adjust and even thrive, but it can take some time and the adjustment period can be pretty disconcerting as a parent. Hang in there! And if for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to be the right time or fit, you can always reassess. It’s just preschool after all.