School is back in full swing and most families have acclimated from summer to school time schedules. My daughter is in first grade this year and absolutely loves it. My 4-year-old son, Max, is in preschool but he’s having a harder time adjusting. When I pick him up after school, he’s all smiles and seems to have had a good time. But dropping him off to start his day is a struggle every time.
I’ve asked him why he doesn’t want to go and he says he just wants to stay with me. After several days of hearing this same response, I asked him more questions and he finally told me the teacher had asked the class to do something and he didn’t know how to do it.
Finally it clicked with me! Max was worried about being asked to do something that he wouldn’t know how to do. Of course! I don’t know how this didn’t occur to me sooner. I’d been looking at preschool as the fun, nurturing place that it is, where there is nothing to fret. But to my 4-year-old, he’s learning new things and feels intimidated.
So we had a big talk during which I explained he’s not supposed to know those things, he’s there to learn just as every other child is, too. After all, if he already knew everything then he wouldn’t need to go to school.
At his next day of class, Max and I spoke with his teacher about his worry. His kind teacher told him she still learns new things every day! I told him he could probably teach her some new facts about dinosaurs. This brought a smile to his face.
I can’t believe I didn’t think he’d be nervous about this part of school. But as I said, I was looking at preschool from a grown-ups view of being a fun, exciting experience. When you have a grown up perspective for long enough, we forget the way the world looks to a child.
But when I looked at it from my child’s point of view I immediately recalled myself as a young girl being nervous before the start of each new school year. I would worry about all the unknown new things I was sure to be asked to know. My mom would reassuringly tell me if I skipped a grade then I would be unprepared but instead I went year by year, one day at a time, and that everything would be fine. And she was always right. After the first few days of school each year, I would realize everything was going to be ok.
I am trying to do the same with Max. In an effort to help him adjust, he likes to ask his teacher before class begins what the basic plan is for the day. Will they switch classrooms with the other class, have recess, snack, etc.? It helps take away some of the “what if’s” for Max. As time goes on, I’m hopeful he won’t need to ask those questions each time but instead will feel confident and excited to start his day at preschool.
But unfortunately we don’t outgrow worry. It’s something that follows us through all stages of our life.
I can recall the day I was moving into my college dorm, walking the halls to check into my dorm room. A major fight or flight moment came upon me as I thought to myself, “What am I doing?! Am I really moving into a room with a stranger, in a dorm hall where I don’t know anyone, at a huge university?” Panic set in! Luckily, I chose fight instead of flight and settled into college life in a short amount of time.
Worrying is such a waste of time but we all do it to varying degrees. And we don’t just worry about school. We worry about family, friends, parenting, jobs, money and the list goes on and on. Whether we’re four years old or 100 years old, we all find things to fret about. What if’s can get the best of us at some point. But as we age, we learn new ways of coping with our worry.
Several years ago I found a saying that resonated with me. “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength.” It helps remind me to put my worrying into perspective. And since it appears worrying may be something my kids inherited from me, I’m doing my best to help my children do the same.