5 answers

Getting My 4 Year Old to Go to Pre-school (Sad, Cries, Says Doesn't like It)

My son turned 4 in July. Started pre-school 3x/week this year. Did okay in the beginning, however, it's now become a battle to get him to go. He starts crying around breakfast, will cry in the car on the way there, and cry all the way into school. I take him to the bathroom (which was a problem for him to get used to a public bathroom), help him get situated, then stay for a few minutes to get him interested in a project, then he starts crying when I leave, holding on to me, hiding behind me. I don't really feel it's still separation anxiety. (out of a very large group of kids, he's really the only one doing this too). I have spoken to his teachers and they all say he pretty much stops crying after I leave and seems to do well and participates in class. There have been a few times when he will cry during class and only one time when he cried the whole time and they actually called me to come and get him. Right now my husband and I are not suspisious of anything with the school or problems with him and other kids, etc.. He went to pre-school last year but only 2x/week and did just fine. We did just move from Germany to Kansas (military), so starting school he didn't know anyone. We ask him questions regarding school and he says he doesn't like it and doesn't want to go, or he doesn't like the toys there or the things they do... When I pick him up he "appears" to be having fun and participating. So right now I'm confused. It's heartbreaking in the morning to see him so sad to go. Socially he is shy and mostly quiet, so I really really want him in pre-school for the social aspect of it. Does this last forever? Any advice? Suggestions of how to make his transition into school easier. Any ideas on how to promote school? Thanks so much.

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You are a great Mom! My third child is my shy one. He too is 4 and going to preschool this year. I agree that for this child's well being I am more interested in his social confidence than in him learning pre-kindergarten knowledge while at "school". First, for this age it can take 6-8 weeks to adjust to a new routine. I can not help but wonder if your drop off routine changed when his behavior changed. If he does fine after you leave I would figure his upset is mostly his gift to you specifically and to get whatever benefit he receives from you, the extra comfort, love, time, understanding etc. I believe there are many ways to work through this. Personally I would not engage in any discussion before going to preschool beyond "we are going to preschool". To any fussing your son does I would acknowledge specific gripes he has without letting it become a discussion. For example, "I hate preschool" or "I want to stay with you Mom". If these types of statements are a running dialogue I would smile, maybe occasionally give a kiss on his head, and occasionally while on my knees looking in his eyes repeat what he just said back to him without judgement but instead with the words like "I hear you saying you don't like school" maybe once in a while add on when needed "but you will still be going". These words do not change what will happen but does let the child know you hear him even if he is not going to get his way. This is more important than you may think. I even do this with my 12 year old at times when he argues with me as if enough words or the "right" words would change my answer because if I truly was hearing what he is saying to me then I couldn't help but agree with him. :-) For me the key is not engaging on the emotional level the child has gotten himself into and keeping all talk about the unwanted destination to a minimum. Next, the question of should you stay with your son for any length of time after dropping him off at class. I think that depends on your child. If staying doesn't benefit your son in any way or makes your leaving worse then I would create a drop off routine that is swift and has you kissing a cheek with a "pick you up later" and a walk out the door. (Stay around the center or in your car and return in half an hour if you are unsure and check on him without him knowing. If he is still fussing give him an hour. Most kids really do calm down within 10 minutes of the parent leaving.) I would say your goal this year is to teach your child that he is capable of handling whatever he faces when you are not there to walk him through it. Our shy children seem more unsure of themselves and only by doing will they gain confidence in their ability to cope with situations on their own. I definitely would not stop, knowing as you do that he will need this skill next year as he goes off to a full day of kindergarten.

I too have heard "I don't want to go to school" from my shy 4 year old and still do some days but I let those statements drop as fast as possible and I do not try to tell him what a great time he will have once he gets there. For me and him, we know he has no choice about going and I will admit to telling him so a few times in the first 3-4 weeks he went. These days he usually isn't jumping with excitement about going but I do not hear any complaints. After about 5 weeks I noticed other children knew my son's name although if you ask him he doesn't have any friends and doesn't play with anyone. Also, drop off has become fast with him getting his coat off, giving me a hug with the words "you can leave now". He remains shy and does not engage in any play until after I have left the room. Similarly, pick up has changed. For the first 5 weeks he was always at the computer when I arrived, a solitary activity. Now he is more likely to be moving around from one person to another playing/talking or whatever it is he is doing. I will remind you that he still tells me he has no friends there! I too want a more socially confident child and believe this is one way I can promote this characteristic in my son. I hope this helps because I do think you are doing the right thing by putting your son into a safe, organised group environment where he can learn about his abilities to problem solve and cope all on his own. Best of luck!

1 mom found this helpful

If he does well after you leave, just take him to school and leave quickly (maybe after you take him to the bathroom). Never sneak away, but say goodbye and go. Don't linger. The school will call you if he is having a real problem and can't calm down.

Also, don't try to force him to be happy about going to school. Don't argue with him that he actually does like it. Just be calm and reassuring and don't react to his reaction. He is having a hard time with the transition, harder than the other kids who were in the same school last year and he probably just needs time to get adjusted. Just go with it and it will get easier. Keep in touch with the teachers to make sure that he is doing well during the day.

It is hard to hear them cry, though! Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

I am in complete sympathy with you! My oldest (now 6 1/2) did the same thing, and it is truly heart wrenching for you as a mother, or it was for me. I was constantly wondering if I was doing the right thing or if somehow I was going to permanently scar her for life. To make a long story short we both lived through it and I think for the better! The hardest part is leaving, but since he's not crying much after you drop him off I think that is a good sign. Kids are smart and they know how to "get to" their parents, but once theyget into playing they are also quickly distracted and forget why they were crying. It takes moms much longer to get over the effects of such an experience. Kids seem sometimes to cry only for the benefit of the parents, though my daughter didn't do this as much when my husband dropped her off. For our daughter as with you everything is new at the moment. Our issue was complicated by the fact that the language was also new since she was in the German Kindergarten. I think it was also confusing for her to see that I would drop her off in a totally foreign atmosphere, BUT take her younger brother with me. She didn't understand why she had to stay and he got to go with mommy. She was 3 1/2 when we started and I'm happy to say that she now loves school and fits in quite well with no apparent ill effects. When I was going through it I felt like I was alone and that perhaps this would last forever; rest assured, it won't!

1 mom found this helpful

My 3 1/2 year old is doing the same thing. He at first loved pre-school and now he literally is doing the same thing as your son. He cries and refuses to go in the door and hangs on m and cries when I leave. The teachers tell me the same thing they tell you. When I pick him up he seems to have had a good time. I don't understand it either as he loved it at first. The odd thing is I can leave in the childcare at church or at the childcare for my MOPS group and he does fine, no crying whatsoever. I hope someone leaves some good advice here cause I am ready to pull him out of his pre-school. I don't thing they school is doing anything bad but he may not like the other children...who knows. At 3 I can't really get a good idea of what he doesn't like.

1 mom found this helpful

I understand where you're coming from. I am a very sensitive person and it takes a lot for me to let go of my child's feelings of distress. My 3.5 year old daughter had a similar situation whereby she loved preschool at first then started to get upset about going. It turned out she was having trouble making friends.

It made me feel sad to see some of the replies which focused on ignoring or stifling the child's emotions. Although there always comes a time to give the child a little push, its important I feel to get to the bottom of the issue first. Your child may not be able to find the words to say what is the core issue bothering him. So it is important to talk to him. Maybe take some quiet time together and read a book together about school life. Talk about things that happen at school and see if he comes out with anything. Don't try to solve the problem either, just offer empathy and understanding. Hopefully, being able to verbalise whats wrong and knowing you're there to listen will help him.

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