We were together, just Sam (who’s 4) and I, in the living room of the cottage, during our week’s holiday up there. Sam was at the coffee table, perhaps drawing with the crayons and paper I’d left there. I was on the couch, perhaps reading. I say “perhaps” because I don’t really remember. What I do remember is that we were quietly and companionably in the same room doing different things.
Then, out of nowhere, Sam said: “Friend X said I was a bad boy”.
I put down what I was doing to give him my attention, but still tried to be casual. “Oh. How did that make you feel?”
I tried my best to talk about it with Sam. We talked about how we both know he isn’t a bad boy, and so Friend X had a mistake. We talked about how Friend X is a good friend, but still learning, and sometimes making mistakes. Then we talked about how Sam has sometimes called his younger brother Natty a bad boy (less perplexing now) and how Natty isn’t a bad boy and so we all make mistakes. We agreed it wasn’t a nice thing to say. I repeated to Sam that he is not a bad boy.
It was a brief conversation. Three minutes, maybe? Led by me, of course, doing my best to help my son navigate the complexities of his social world. He looked at the table throughout most of the conversation, except at the end when I asked him to look at me so I could tell him he was a great boy and that I loved him very much while looking into his eyes. I think he was reassured by our talk, but I’m not sure how much so.
I’ve heard parents say over and over again that just being around for your kids is really important, to make time and space for children to express what’s on their mind. Even as I worry about not being with my kids more, I am grateful to be around as much as I am, so glad Sam felt he could talk to me and that I was there when he found his voice.
Sam enters public school kindergarten in a week. We didn’t get a spot at the alternative school we wanted and I’m kind of anxious about this new phase. Not about accelerated learning or anything like that – I don’t care if he can cut in a circle or write an “F”. But I do want it to be a place where he feels safe, secure, has some freedom to explore, and where kids aren’t too hard on each other. I don’t really share the “life is tough so let the 4 years olds cope” mentality. I want Sam to feel good about himself, both in and out of school.
A parent whose child finished kindergarten came to speak to the parents of new entrants, and described in some detail how her child wept at school for six months and the “heartbreak” of the children’s exclusionist tendencies (the “you can’t play with us” and “you’re not invited to my party” variety). She also mentioned we should buy a backpack (which I’ve done). I can only assume when the teachers picked this spokeswoman they did not know what she would say. Sometimes, when I’m feeling worried, I think of her.
I’m fortified by a few things, though. Firstly, that Sam genuinely enjoyed preschool and that his transition there was easy (and I heard the children said exclusionist things there too). Second, Ben is confident that Sam will do well there emotionally and I tend to think Sam’s fairly grounded too. Third, we can take him out if it’s not working.
And lastly, I’m encouraged by that little talk up at the cottage, where Sam was able to tell me about something that was weighing on him. I feel like if he can trust us to share the load, then he’ll know he won’t really be going into that classroom alone.
Did you worry about kindergarten? Do you have any advice for the rest of us?
This post also appears at http://thekingsandi.wordpress.com.
Are you able to volunteer occasionally? That can really help to give you a sense of classroom dynamics, and may ease your mind a great deal. My experience of kindergarten, through the three of my kids who have gone so far, has been entirely positive, and I did not find that four-year-olds were naturally exclusive or mean. What helped me to be more compassionate to those children who were more difficult was to remind myself that every kid in the classroom was equally precious and vulnerable.
f you’re concerned about bullying, you can give your son verbal tools by teaching him how to express himself clearly if he doesn’t like something that’s happening to him: (“I don’t like that. Please stop.”) (We’re still working on that!).
A strong and empathetic teacher directing classroom behavior in positive ways is definitely something to hope for, too. I hope the transition goes smoothly.
Thanks for the great suggestions, and I do hope to volunteer occasionally at school. I did this at preschool and Sam always seemed to love it.
I’m actually quite optimistic that the school year will go well, but wanted to write about this pokey fear. Sometimes I look at Sam and he seems just so… happy. (Apart from the shrieking and whining, that is.) And then I’ll worry that something or someone might take this good feeling from him before he’s able to protect it for himself.
I’m doing my best to keep the fear at bay, and out of sight when Sam is around. I want him to feel that the world outside holds opportunities not danger.