The beginning of the kindergarten journey, for some tamariki a first time being nurtured outside of whanau, this can be met with trepidation. At Four Seasons Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten we focus intentionally on the formation of a solid relationship before a child begins with us. This is done through a series of visits and also the beginning of a discovery of the child, their strengths, abilities, challenges and we like to form an understanding of the family they are a part of. The beginning of a secure attachment outside the family home is our focus.
Below is a wonderful article written by a Steiner/Waldorf Kindergarten teacher and parent educator; Faith Collins. We discovered these words of wisdom in KINDLING, Journal for Steiner Waldorf Early Childhood, Issue 34, 2018. We subscribe to Kindling and you’ll find copies for borrowing in our whanau library. For your own subscription please be in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations, you’ve decided to enroll your child in a group program! An exciting move, but perhaps slightly terrifying? When your child is at home with a single loving caregiver, you can imagine your little one going through his day. But to deliver him to a teacher, with her own space, her own routines, and so many other children, is a true leap of faith! As an Early Years teacher for many years, I have supported many dozens of families through this transition. As a parent of myself, I’ve been on the other side, too. Many children, especially those ages 3-6, are excited to arrive on Day One, and they never look back. For younger children and those who are especially sensitive, however, it can take some time for children to be able to say goodbye happily. In accompanying children and parents through this process, I’ve learned what can help it go smoothly, and what can throw a wrench in the process.
“I’m Leaving You in the Best of Hands”
More important than a child’s age, temperament, or anything else, the single most important predictor of how smoothly the transition will go for drop-off and settling into a new group is the parent’s attitude. When a parent’s attitude is warm and full of trust in the teacher, then children settle in quickly, even if the act of saying goodbye itself is hard. When a parent is worried, anxious, or feels guilty about leaving their child, it can be much harder for the child to settle in, often continuing to cry long after the parent has left.
Remember, children are experts at reading our emotional states, but they are highly inaccurate when it comes to figuring out WHY we feel the way we do. If you have trouble leaving your child in a new program, your child cannot think, “Wow, she must feel conflicted because leaving me in a program is a milestone of growing up and that inevitably means growing apart in some ways. Seeing me cry must make it hard to leave even though she knows that this will be a wonderful experience for me.” On the contrary, what the young child experiences may be much closer to this: “My mom doesn’t want to leave me here, but she’s doing it anyhow. This place must NOT BE SAFE.”
If your child is having a hard time, it is especially important to get your own emotions under control and broadcast the message, “I know that saying goodbye is hard, AND I know that you’ll have a good time while you’re gone. I am leaving you in the BEST of hands.” You can go out and cry in the carpark if you need to, but don’t let those feelings leak out while you’re saying goodbye! When we refuse to leave until a child feels happy about it, this places undue responsibility on the child. The way that a child can go from tears at drop-off to happily running off to play is not through convincing or discussion, but through practice.
Saying Goodbye Is Harder than Being Apart
As a parent myself, I know how hard it is to steel myself and walk away when my child is sobbing and reaching out for me. It seems like one more hug could only help, right? But no! I know that this program is going to be a good fit for my child; that’s why I enrolled her. It’s not the act of being apart that feels bad, it’s the act of parting itself that hurts. So…don’t prolong the hard part. When we give children warnings that we are going to leave soon, and then we say goodbye only to stop and talk to the teacher, then say goodbye again, then try to reassure our child when she child starts to cry, it’s easy to end up with a screaming child clinging to our legs.
Know in advance that it can be hard for children to watch us leave. Develop a short ritual to let your child know that you love her and that you’ll see her after lunch (or after nap, or at dinnertime), and then trust the teacher to help your child settle in. If your child is crying, please don’t force the teacher to peel him off of you. Instead, pick him up and do a hand-off, into teacher’s arms. The teacher is not pulling him away from you, she is receiving your child and your trust. You are leaving him in the best of hands.
Likewise, don’t force your child to engage in too emotional of a farewell, just because you’re feeling emotional. As a teacher, I would often help a child say goodbye by exciting him about another activity; say, finding some dandelion leaves to feed Mr. Whiskers. I’d take him by the hand and start on our way, then pause and say, “Oh, say bye to Mum and THEN we’ll find some leaves for Mr. Whiskers.” We turn around to wave and blow a quick kiss, and we’re off to the dandelion patch. If your child’s teacher does this, you might feel a stab of sadness because you would prefer a real snuggle and a heartfelt declaration of love before you part with your baby. Don’t worry, you will get that heartfelt declaration when you come at the end of the day! Forcing children to think closely about the fact that you’re leaving can make it harder to settle in. Instead, let them get excited about what’s to come. You will ALWAYS be the most important person to them; don’t make them prove it every morning.
The Arc of Settling In
As a longtime teacher and caregiver, I would prepare my new parents about what to expect. Especially with children ages 0-3, settling in often goes in an “arc” of starting out smoothly, getting more difficult as children protest being left repeatedly, then evening out as relationships begin to take root. With this pattern, goodbye on the first day goes “unexpectedly” smoothly, then gets progressively harder for days two, three, and four. By day five things start to get easier again, and by day six we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Most of the time, these same children settle down quickly after their parents leave and have a wonderful time while their parents are gone. They are busy getting to know the new space, new routines, and establishing a relationship with their new caregiver. If your child is only going two mornings per week this process might be a bit slower, as it will take him more time to bond with someone he is not seeing as frequently. Talk with the teacher about how long it takes your child to settle after you leave, and trust in the process. Continue giving your child the message that you are making a good decision and he will be safe and loved here.
The Teacher Is Your Ally
If you have complex feelings about enrolling your child in a drop-off program, or if you’re worried about how your child will settle in, have a conversation with the teacher/caregiver before you start, and come up with a plan together. If your child does have an especially hard time settling in, make some time (not at drop off!) to talk with the teacher. In my experience, children who come three days or more each week settle in much more quickly and establish much deeper relationships with me and with other children in the group. However, some children really aren’t ready to be in a large group and would do better at home or in a very small group. Have ongoing conversations with your child’s teacher and talk about what will be best for your child. Remember, children do best when they have many adults who love them, and you and your child’s teacher are a team, creating a life in which your child will thrive.
Faith Collins is a longtime class teacher, parenting coach, speaker, and author of the book Joyful Toddlers & Preschoolers: Create A Life that You and Your Child Both Love. She is a LifeWays instructor and consultant for Steiner-based Early Years programs. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and young daughter, and teaches outdoor parent-child classes in her beautiful Play Garden. Learn more at www.joyfultoddlers.com