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4 Year Old Does Not Want to Start Preschool Tomorrow! Help!

Our son turned 4 in March. He's a very bright, very active boy with lots of interests (starwars, legos, sports, books, nature...). But we've always had a nanny or family member babysit since he was a baby. So he's never had to leave the house alone before. And based on our experiences with him over the past couple of years, he does not handle change very well. For example, we had him nearly potty trained at age 2, but then I got pregnant with his sister, now 14 months, and he completely regressed. Then during that same time, we moved. It was an extremely rough year with his behavior. But things have gotten much better, and as I said, he's a very bright kid. He knows the alphabet, can identify all uppercase letters and is learning to correctly say double-digit number, among other things, like being able to completely navigate our old ibook (now his computer) all by himself. BUT he does NOT want to start preschool! Tomorrow he begins a half-day preschool in our neighborhood. He's met his teacher twice and also met all the kids in his class at a back-to-school playdate a couple of saturdays ago. That started off very badly! But once the kids all started playing together, he was completely fine. He's a very social boy at the playground, always playing with every kid and introducing himself to others... What can we do to ease this transition for him? He was practically in tears tonight at bedtime, saying he hates school, he's going to hit the other kids, he doesn't want to make new friends..... Ideas?

2 moms found this helpful

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It sounds like he is just fearful of a big new chapter in his life and who can blame him? There are preschools where the child "decides" when he is ready to be left by the parent rather then just drop and run. But if that isn't the case I would just be very supportive and patient. Let him voice his fears and validate that he has a right to his feelings but keep also reminding him how darn much fun they are going to be having. I bet by the end of week one he loves it.

More Answers

Hi C.,

The below is from Smart Love publications Q&A books. You can visit the website at www.smartlovefamily.org and sign up for the free monthly enews. The below questions was from last month's enews and I think very close to where you might be at with your son. We also have a great discussion board which you can reach and join via the website. I hope this helps!

My child is scared of school

Q: My five-year-old is starting kindergarten this fall. Previously he
was in preschool for a few hours a week, but the kindergarten is all-day.
When we try to talk to him about how much fun he will have in his new
school and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Sometimes he walks out of the
room or puts his hands over his ears. We also notice that he is having
many more nightmares than usual and seems very easily upset during
day. We wonder if these behaviors are related to his starting school,
and if so what we can do to help him since he doesn’t seem to want to
talk about it.

You are correct. Your son’s behavior is related to his worries about start-
ing kindergarten. The problem is that you are trying to talk your son into
looking forward to starting school by telling him how much fun he will
have, rather than trying to find out what is worrying him. As a result, he
feels he is doing something wrong when he can’t adopt your positive
attitude. So he wants to avoid all discussion of the situation.

We suggest that you change course. Tell him you recognize he has concerns
about going to kindergarten and that this is normal- many children worry
about starting a new school. Add that worries can be expressed in bad
dreams and upset feelings. If you show your son that you are comfortable
with the notion that he may be dreading school, he will probably feel more

comfortable discussing his concerns. It might help to
ask the librarian at your local library to suggest age-appropriate books
about children who imagine that school will be unpleasant.

Once your son opens up and tells you what he fears, be careful not to
contradict him (“We’ve met the teacher and she is very nice,” or “That’s silly,
of course the other children will like you.”) Rather, let him know how
great it is that he is communicating his fears and that if anything does go
wrong at school he can come right home and tell you and you will help
him figure out a way to handle the problem. Fears don’t go away because
someone tells you not to worry - what is reassuring is to know that if what
you dread happens, you have someone to turn to who can help you. Once
school starts, leave some quiet time every day - perhaps when you are putting
your son to bed - to ask him how his day went. Make sure you give him
an opportunity to tell you about the bad as well as the good.

answered by Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., and is described in their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person, (Harvard Common Press, 1999).

2 moms found this helpful

The first week will probably be rough so expect that. When you go tomorrow, walk in with him, show him around and then give him a hug and kiss, tell him you love him and will be back to pick him up and LEAVE!. Don't stop for a hundred more hugs and goodbyes. Short and sweet is best for you and him. He needs to see that you are ready to leave him. Try and not let it show if you are upset, it will only upset him more. He will probably cry and make a big stink, but most likely he won't be the only one. This is typical first day preschool stuff and while it feels heart-wrenching hearing your child scream for you, it is part of the process since he has never been away before. The quicker you leave, the sooner he can start his day and begin to enjoy himself. You aren't going to be able to talk him into going to school, he will see for himself after while how fun it is. Stay strong and make drop-off as quick as possible after that first day. If you think you will get too emotional try and say your goodbyes at home and have your hubby or sitter drop him off. Naturally you feel guilty that he isn't excited to go, but he is old enough to sense your feelings and that only makes it harder for him to be happy about the experience.

2 moms found this helpful

I didn't read the other responses, but my son was hesitant about preschool, and doesn't always like change.
My first thoughts were that, if you are nervous, he will be nervous. So put on your happy face and be excited for him, your positiveness will help him feel less anxious.
Next, he doesn't like change. Try just being matter of fact, with little detail. If he asks questions, then elaborate. Such as, tell him about school early in the day, remind him before dinner time, and not at bedtime, so he's not unsettled before he needs to rest. Keep your voice matter of fact, upbeat. Don't explain it like a story. Get him up early, do your morning routine, and go to school at least 15 minutes early if you can, so he can see the new people, and check out the building, and has time to separate from you or take interest in the other kids.
I heard a trick, maybe supernanny... give him something small of yours, preferably not something he'll play with to keep with him. Tell him when you'll be back to get him, and your "item". I think s.n. explained that they hold on to your trinket, and know that you will come back for it, and them.
Don't fear, you won't be the first or last mom to have a kid that doesn't want to go through those doors. And we all sympathize with you!
Hope he has a great day.

2 moms found this helpful

Did he start today, Tues, or tomorrow, Wed? So, if Tues you know already how he took it. As an adult, we can see that he does not know what it is he doesn't want to do. We can give him information and so bring his expectations to a realistic level. We can only surmise what is going on in his head. however, at 4, he can tell you some things. Ask specific question, "Are you scared?" "do you have a funny feeling in your stomach, like butterflies (anxiety)? "Are you angry?' It is always best to get things from the child rather than rely upon our own life experience to try to read a child. Very often the fears are specific and you can address them. AS far as his behavior these past 2 years, even if those things hadn't happened, he would have behaved badly, it is the age. So many kids who are almost potty trained early regress without a baby joining the family. If he is social on the playground, he will be okay in school. Since you are so intelligent and gifted yourself, then you know already that you should not interfere as he learns to go it alone. He will learn from the other children and his teacher. You can count on the teachers to let you know if there is a big problem, and if not, it is their job to deal with his interactions on a day to day basis. As always, your tone of voice when speaking to him about school should be calm and modulated so as to motivate him to mature behavior. Don't coddle or get stressed. Don't require him to love it the first day but just to go there, i.e. your voice and words should not be asking him to be excited and enthusiastic. Since he is bright, you will now be able to marvel at his ability to figure out how to get on in school. Believe me, you will love seeing him grow.

Our son did go to 3 year old preschool and is heading off to 4 year old preschool in the morning. Last year was not easy. I don't think there was a single child not completely stressed and crying. Our preschool teacher has been doing this for decades and gave really sound advice to each of us in advance. 1. Do not talk about school too much. That just builds their anxiety. 2. Like one of the other Moms said, when you do HAVE TO talk about school keep an even tone. Do not show any of your emotions and do not react to the childs anxiety. Just listen. 3. When it comes time for drop-off, be prepared to leave a crying/screaming child behind. They normally calm down within 10-15 minutes. Well, she was on target with all of her advise. Within 2-3 weeks last year, every child was happy to be there. It's a big milestone and I wish you all the best for a wonderful school year (regardless how unpleasant it starts out)! You can do it and so can your son!!

It sounds like he is just fearful of a big new chapter in his life and who can blame him? There are preschools where the child "decides" when he is ready to be left by the parent rather then just drop and run. But if that isn't the case I would just be very supportive and patient. Let him voice his fears and validate that he has a right to his feelings but keep also reminding him how darn much fun they are going to be having. I bet by the end of week one he loves it.

The first week or two is going to be rough, but know it is harder on you then him! You can expect tough good byes, but you have to keep them short and direct. Walk him into his room, give him a hug and kiss, and walk out of the room. Long good byes just make it worse for everyone. And, trust me....5 minutes after you are gone, he is going to be having a great time with his new friends and all the new toys to explore and play with. A good sign of how well he is adapting is how he reacts when it is time to go...it sometimes take me 5 - 10 minutes to get my kids out the door because they are busy playing with their friends. Stay tough, mom. It does get easier!

Hi C.,
Have you explained to him that going to school is what big boys do? I would suggest writing a social story for him to help work through his fears and anxiety. It would be a story about him and his feelings about school. It could start out, Big boys go to school, but I don't like going!" And then you would have a picture of him making a mad or sad face. The next page might be, "Going to school makes me so mad that I feel like I want to hit the other kids, but I know this behavior is unacceptable I have to use my words and tell my teachers how I feel." And then a picture of him talking with the teacher. Could be too that he's jealous of his sister getting to stay home with you and views school as a punnishment. I would definately talk with him about his feelings about that and add a page about how it makes him feel that he has to go to school and his sister gets to stay home. The goal is to name all of the feelings he's feeling and help him to work though them.
The more you talk with him about his feelings about school, the more ideas you'll get for the pages of the book. This will give him a visual map of his feelings (and what they're called when he's feeling them), and also a better idea of how it is appropriate for him to react if he's having a breakdown- ex; using his words to express his feelings, rather than hitting another child.
I've used these with my 4 year old a few times and they have always worked great. Its a bit time consuming, but its something you can do together with him. And I'll bet you'll be suprised how much he wants to read it in the next few days after you make it. I hope that helps!
blessings,
J.

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