30 answers

My 4 Year Old Having Problems Adjusting to Preschool

My son started preschool in September, right before his 4th birthday. He turned 4 in October. The first day of school he cried so much that the school called me and told me to come down to stay with him. For the past 2 months I have had to stay with him in school. 2 weeks ago I left him for the first time. He cried when I left but the teacher said he was ok. Now this week he cried when I dropped him off again. Only this week the teacher said he wouldnt eat and he sat on the floor by himself in the gym while the other kids played. I am a stay at home mom and my husband and I dont go out much. So really all he knows is us. He is fine academically but socially hes very immature. We dont know many people in our neighborhood so he doesnt have any friends that we can have playdates with. He goes on Tuesdays from ###-###-####. I know he should go more than 1 day but it was all we could afford. I dont know what to do. Should I pull him out of pre-k? Should I keep him in and just make him repeat it next year or push him through to Kindergarten? I dont want him making himself sick but at the same time he eventually has to be away from mommy. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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I agree that the teachers should have let him cry it out from day 1. He might have adjusted better. The probem is they're not certified teachers. They're volunteers. So they probably dont want to be bothered. The main teacher told me to have him tested and maybe home school him. She really doesn't want to be bothered. I have signed him up for some programs at the local library. I would stay with him but at least he would interact with other children. We also made a playdate for him. I told my husband we need to leave him with our parents for awhile wihtout us also. I love the fact that my son loves me so much he doesn't want to be without me but I also know its a must for his social development. The school doesn't even push him to interact. They ask him once and if he doesn't answer they just leave him. I understand there are other children but something has to be done. I will update you guys on his progress. Thanks you so much for all your responses. As you can see I'm at the end of my rope so thank you so much.

You know what I also dont agree with. Before he goes to school I try talking to him about the other kids and explain whats going to happen at school. I also tell him I have to leave but I will always be there for him when he gets out. The teachers told me not to tell him just to sneak out when he's not looking. I dont agree with this. He's really never gonna let me out of his sight becaushe's gonna feel as soon as he looks the other way Im going to run away.Its just hard to make playdates bc all thekids knwo each other and any of my frineds that have kids they are all infants. My daughter is 20 months old and she cant wait to be by herself. The first day we took my son to school she was crying because she wanted to stay and color. But also you learn with the second child. We didnt baby her as much and we left her with people right from the beginning. Everyone says give it time. I just hope it does get better.

I have asked him why he doesnt like school. He said hes scared and misses mommy. Then his eyes well up. I dont think the teachers are really doing enough because they dont want to be botheres. They really dont even talk to me after school. They just say he had a bad day didnt eat or play with kids. Then they walk away. This is all coming from the teachers helper. The teahcer hasnt said 1 word to me about it. I think we're going to let him stick it out and if need be let him repeat prek next year.

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I work in a preschool and have seen every child have a tough time in the early stages. Eventually they all come around, some just take longer than others. I have seen a child cry almost the entire first week he started. Now he cries when he has days off.

I can sympathize with how trying this situation is for you. My instinct (as an educator) is to give him more time to get in the swing of things on his own. After all, he needs to socialize. What are his teachers recommending? If nothing changes in a few more weeks, why not look for a really good child psychologist.

Hi K.
My 3 year old had trouble adjusting to his first year of preschool too. THe teachers at my school always want the parent to leave--I have never been called back in or told to stay with him, and I think that is a good idea. The more you go in and stay with him, he won't get used to you being gone (and realize you'll be back to get him at the same time each time). I would try to get him in 2 days a week even if you have to cut back on something else to afford it--he'll get used to it quicker. And drop him off with a cheerful smile and goodbye even if he is crying, and tell him you will see him a little later. Then go and don't look back. After a few weeks of this routine he will hopefully be much better. Good luck!

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Poor little guy! This whole process must be so overwhelming for him.

Did you say for the past 2 MONTHS you had to stay with him in school?? Oh no. Please tell me that is a typo. Something is very wrong. When he sat on the floor alone, was he invited to play by the staff? Did they do anything at all? Frankly, I am not happy with the fact that they asked you to come in to stay with him. What if you cannot not come in? What would they do? It almost sounds like your son is being treated like a hopeless case - we can't handle him, he needs his mother! I am very, very suspicous of this place. A day care/school is supposed to help your child adjust to its environment without you.

As a mom who has been through some less than pleasant experiences with day care, I say, first, scrutinize this school. Not all places are able to accomodate children with different personalities and needs. Some kids adjust fine, others are slow to warm up, like my son is, and your day care needs to recognize and respect such differences. In my experience, I encountered some providers who applied a one-size-fits-all approach, just letting the slow to warm up kids deal with their stress alone rather than providing gentle encouragement and a few extra hugs and kisses. So, that said, I would discuss your concerns with the staff and ask specifically what THEY are doing to handle this situation with your son. Does the staff have concrete ideas on how to handle your son's upset behavior? What have they done in the past with other children who were like your son? Ask lots of questions. I would also drop in, unexpectedly, and see what's going on. Finally, I would spend several hours with your son at the school, at a time when you are usually not there, and see how your son's upset behavior is being handled.

If you find nothing of concern (I doubt this), then I would pull him and have him attend next year. There's a good possibility that he may mature a lot in a year, and therefore be better able to handle the school environment.

I see where you are going with the socialization thing. He does not seem to be around other children much. But that does not justify, IMO, this school behavior. Because you say he is normal academically, right? So I am assuming he is bright and developmentally normal in every way. He should be able to adjust to a new environment just fine. He may be a little slower than others to do it, but 2 MONTHS? Sorry, but no.

My mom had always told me that the right place for your child is one where he happily separates from you at the start of the day. She was right. After three centers, I finally found a place where he is truly content, and I see it in his attitude daily. His old day care repeatedly told me that he just didn't like to play with anyone - he was a "loner." That just wasn't true. Now that he is in the right environment, he is blossoming, and now I am told he is funny and bright, and sings shamelessly out of tune during music time. This is the same child I see at home. This is how it should be when you separate from your child.

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Hi K.,

As an owner of a preschool I can tell you that going one day a week is going to make the adjustment period much more difficult. I can understand that financially you can not afford more but I can almost guarantee you that is a part of the problem. Is there any other schools in your area that are more reasonable so he can go more often. I also do not think that having you remain in the class is a good idea. I usually have children visit my center for a half hour a day for about a week so they can adjust and most times I have to encourage parents to just observe them but leave the room. When parents stay children will not interact they will just cling to their parents more. I worry about you taking him out at this point and leaving him home unless you get him involved in other activities which expose him to children. I know the local library will usually do story time that is of no cost to you. I also think you are right on target to worry about him adjusting to Kindergarten if he is this attached. If there is any way you can afford to add more days and for a few weeks just have him stay for a half hour and then come back eventually he should adjust and like school. I must be honest I have had children who cry but I have never asked a parent to stay or come and pick up their child. I am concerned about how comfortable the staff is trying to make your son, and also how much effort they are putting into helping him adjust. I will personally shadow a child who is crying to help out my staff and give the child one on one attention. It really breaks my heart that a teacher would tell a mom that her son sat alone and played with no one. It is her job to at least try and help him to engage and make him feel safe. It really disturbs me when I hear things like this. I am always honest with parents and tell them if their children cry, however I will always try to give them support and reassure them that my staff and I will do all we can to help their child transition as easy as possible. I am wondering if it is just because he only attends one day that there isn't enough interest on their part. I think I would look for another center and this time take him with you make him a part of the decision. Basically you know your child best and if he seems traumatized by preschool then do what your heart tells you. I would however try to socialize him as much as you can so he will be less shy when he is away from you in the future. Good luck!

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Hi K.
What a sad scenario!!! I am so sorry, and wish you had written sooner. Some kids are not ready for preschool at 4 years old. I will say out front that I don't think kids need preschool. His lack of adjustment has probably made you more sad as the year has gone on and that always shows on Mom's faces. Just a guess, but he is probably picking up on that emotion as well as not being ready for whatever reason. No friends there can be a big reason. Some parents think their children will make friends in preschool, but if the group is kids who know each other it is hard for the new kid on the block. Did the teacher ever tell you to bring him in early so that the group descends on him as opposed to him descending on the group? Sometimes that helps because the group forms around him. It is too late for that now.
The teacher did you no favor by having you come and stay. As a preschool teacher for many years, she would have been better to say to you--- leave and come back in 5 minutes tell him his school was over for the day. The next week when you bring him tell him you will be doing something he hates doing(grocery shopping, cleaning house whatever) then pick him up within the hour. Building to the two hour stay. Then make sure that the teacher is saying "Mommy be right back, Mommy loves you" You saying Mommy loves you and Mommy thinks you will have more fun with the kids than going grocery shopping. Pick him up at the end of shopping and have him help you bring the groceries in the house always making this hard work and saying how much more fun he would have at school. I have told parents to use this tactic before with 3 year olds, sometimes it works; but some 3's just are not emotionally ready to leave, and some mom's are not emotionally ready to leave them. Since we are so far into the year, it is my suggestion that you pull him out and wait til fall, if that means holding him back a year because of when your school district cut off date is, I am guessing that would be the best for his emotional well being. Does that mean you cannot do preschool? absolutely not! Try setting up a preschool time at home, which you may already be doing, but call it preschool and color, puzzles, playdough or anything else that you saw they were doing at preschool, so he sees he can do it. Of course saying what a big boy he is getting to be able to do whatever he did.
Just some thoughts
God bless your decision
K. SAHM married 39 years --- adult children 38,coach; 33,lawyer; and twins 19 in college after homeschooling.

1 mom found this helpful

Dear K.,
I briefly scrolled through some of the responses you received and, frankly, I couldn't believe some of them. Usually, I find the responses in general to be more attentive to how the child is feeling than I believe a majority of these ones were. I don't normally reply, but in this case I thought you may be interested in my experience.
First, I am a Grandmother who has custody of my just turned 6 (11/11 birthday)Grandson. I have had custody of him since he was just two years old. I had been sending him to a sitter since he was about 1 and a half as his parents were not taking care of him and they all lived at my house -I have a full time job. He loved the sitter and liked being there. Then I started sending him in Sept. (two years ago) to 3yr. old prescool at a local church when he was actually going to be turning 4 in Nov. He went there 2 hrs. a day, 2 days a week and then to the sitters till I would get out of work. The next year (last year) he was old enough in New York to attend kindergarten. The bus would pick him up in front of the house at 7:25 am and he would be in school every day of the week all day (dismissal at 2:40)and he would get dropped back off about 3:15. That would work very well for me as I wouldn't have to pay for school or the the sitter and I wouldn't have to leave work and drive him to and from preschool. Regardless, I didn't feel he was ready to spend a whole day 5 days a week in the kindergarten setting with no nap, etc.
Since I was questioning his readiness, I began to ask many different people who had experience on this what they felt or thought. I asked teachers, the daycare provider, co-workers, friends, and the mother of my niece (who sent her to kindergarten early because she was academically very bright). 100% said they felt it was better to hold a child back if they weren't quite ready and especially with boys. I was told that boys mature later than girls (which I knew) and that it would make the difference between the little guy struggling to keep up or not.
Needless to say, I kept him back and sent him to 4 yr. old preschool 3 days a week (M,W,F) instead. As a bonus there, they started offering extended day care so I didn't have to leave work in the middle of the day to pick him up and deliver him to the sitters.
My point is, why make your child overly upset? Start doing some of the things mentioned to get him used to having extended family and non-family interface and don't push the "he has to do it sometime" scenario. He's only going to be this small a little bit longer and before you know it he'll want to be off with his friends and you'll be missing the closeness. Who knows what kind of underlying problems he might have as a result of being scared and traumatized when you leave him. Try to imagine if you were taken by the person you trust the most to somewhere you didn't know and left with people you didn't know who want you to do things that are strange to you - How would you feel??
My Grandson is attending kindergarten this year and is having no social or apptitude problems and so I believe I made the right choice for him. Please consider easing your son in to the school situation after he has learned to feel more secure without you. Thanks for reading.

1 mom found this helpful

I agree with what Diane said, as a preschool owner, I think there are several things that have gone wrong. One day is tough. I always tell parents I'm not in it to make a million dollars...I love what I do...that said, one day a week is tough because by the time the next week rolls around, they've forgotten the routine, the kids, the atmosphere etc and it makes it almost like the first day all over again. Have you checked for UPK in the area. I know Deer Park, Babylon and Dix Hills have some so they may in your area.

While I realize parents don't want to leave their kids crying, it is heartbreaking, it is often the best thing you can do in the long run. When a parent is there the child doesn't want to interact with the other children because he has the comfort of having mommy. We've had some really tough cases...some crying all 3 hrs (2 yr olds) and tried different approaches and in the end the mom reassuring them, spending a couple of extra minutes making sure they are settled and then leaving was the best. We have some moms who will come back early and spend about 10-15 minutes there so the child will see they came back and mommy likes school too, but then we take it down to 10 mins, 5 mins and coming regular time. It's tough on staff having a child crying all the time too. It's heartbreaking for them too and makes it hard to help other children, especially in bigger classes. I think having you there may have made it easier for them but not easier for your son.

You are no doubt the center of his world and he finds it difficult to be away from you.
It's a new place, with new kids. A new routine and expectations.

I would not pull him out. I would try sending him and leaving him there. Yes, he will cry. Spend lots of time on the way reassuring him and telling him how much fun he will have. Talk positively and try not to get upset as he will sense it. Try this for a few weeks and see how it goes. It's like starting new because you have been there all this time with him and he is expecting school to be school with mommy. If this doesn't work then pulling him may be the answer but I would leave it as a last resort.

NY state has a Dec cut off but most other states have a Sept cut off. I firmly believe a child should be 5 before entering kindy. I do it with my own children. The differences in a 4 and 5 year old are amazing. I would hold him back next year if it were me and try adding a day or two if possible so he can have more time in the center.

Good luck! I hope it works out for you guys!

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I agree with all the previous posters that two months was too long for you to be there with him, one day a week at school is probably not helping, and the preschool does not seem to be doing enough and therefore this place may not be right for your son. I just want to urge you (as an elementary school teacher) to observe how his social development and separation issues evolve this year because you DO NOT have to send him to kindergarten when he is 4 turning 5. You can wait until he is 5 turning 6. I would be starting to think along these lines if it was my child. I would research my options for getting him involved in a (preferably daily or 4-day a week) pre-K next year and if he blossoms in the spring, you could abandon the idea and send him to K. However being one of the oldest, most mature children in his grade level is a gift that parents so often do not choose to give their children.

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He'll adjust when he's in K because it will be every day and longer than 2 hours.

So right now, do what feels right to you. I think if he was in pre-k 3 or more days, or for one full day, he would adjust fine (it might take awhile), he's not adjusting now because he's barely there long enough to get over the newness when he gets dropped off.

Since he is only there 2 hours, it's barely enough time to even give you a break, I would probably pull him out since having him go more days is not an option. I don't think you need to worry about keeping him out of K next year, I think he will adjust to the routine, it will be a longer day and every day, so while it may take a few days to a week to adjust, he should be fine. In the meantime, maybe there is a Gymboree or other program near you that has "mommy & me" classes, something where he can play with other kids, but you are present, I'm not sure what age these classes go up to, you want something where he can play with other kids, not just parallel play, or take him regularly to a playground, maybe you'll meet another mom willing to have a play date. Good luck!

Hi K.: try this website. Its a group for stay at home moms. They may have a group near you.

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