This morning I dropped my little boy at childcare with a grin on his face.
He happily trotted into his room with the little playdough table and chairs, set up for a fun crafty morning. Then he put his dinosaur backpack away and turned to hug me.
When I cuddled his small body into mine, I felt he was at ease. There were NO TEARS when we said goodbye. For the first time ever, I walked out of that gate with my heart singing, instead of aching.
Here’s what happened.
- Why parents need to do more than ‘kiss and drop’
- How to settle your kids into childcare – without the tears
- Study suggests childcare centres may be best for kids’ development
I’d almost given up
My little guy (aged three) changed childcare centres at the beginning of this year. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy on him but I didn’t realise how tough it was going to be on me, as well.
He’s not a childcare newbie, but this is a new centre for him. It took a while for him to settle into his old kindy too, but back then he’d had his brother, Leon, to play with in the playground, even though they were in different rooms. Leon would also visit him in the toddler room whenever Sam needed to see a family face while getting used to things.
But Leon went to school at the start of the year, so I changed Sam to another childcare centre – one right next door to the school.
He knew no one. It was all so new. And big and overwhelming. The teachers, albeit lovely, didn’t know him like his old educators. The routine was different for him. He felt a bit lost. He felt anxious. He felt shy.
As such, he would cry a river from the minute he woke up and learned it was ‘kindy day’ to that dreaded goodbye moment – where I would have to go against every one of my maternal instincts and walk away from him, his face streaming with tears, and his little body quivering in the arms of his kind teacher.
I felt broken. I worried about him all day and that I might be damaging his mental health. Little ones shouldn’t experience anxiety, I fretted.
And so I was about to give up on this new childcare. Enrol him back in his old one and struggle with pickups and drop offs because the school and kindy were two suburbs away.
But then Sam met Lachy. And everything changed.
A buddy of his own
I was also doing everything to help him – chatting to his teachers about my concerns and what could be done to help him feel at ease, reading him social stories about childcare, talking positively about it to him, brainstorming with him about how to ease his anxiety (“okay, I will tell the teachers if you don’t like the lunch, you can have a vegemite sandwich”) and showing him pictures and videos his educators had sent me of him having fun there – to try and replace his anxiety with excitement on kindy mornings.
It was sort of working. Some days the tears wouldn’t start until the drive to childcare instead of the second he woke up (or even the night before when he asked me what day it would be in the morning). But not enough.
The worry, fear and separation anxiety were all there at every drop-off. Every kindy day.
But the thing that was missing was a friend of his own.
Lachy the lifesaver
The day he and Lachy bonded over pretending to be dinosaurs, was the day everything changed for Sam.
All of my adult approaches to try and fix the problem were futile. He had just needed to make a buddy, and on his own dinosaur terms.
A buddy who he would play ALL day with – watering the plants, squishing play dough, driving dump trucks and of course playing dinosaurs. A buddy to sit next to at story time, at craft time at lunchtime. A buddy to hold hands with as they resist the lull of the relaxing sleep music washing over all the children at nap time.
A buddy of his own.
Nowadays, we don’t call it ‘kindy day’, it’s ‘Lachy day’ and Sam is super excited to go, like he was today.
When we arrived this morning, sweet little Lachy was waiting for Sam. He greeted him at the top gate and both boys giggled as they ran along the fence trying to grab each other through the rails. When I opened the lower gate, they ran into each other’s arms.
So I was about to give up on this new childcare, but then Lachy happened.
Sometimes all it takes is a friend.