"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

preschool diaries: let the bribery begin!

Preschool is going well. Evan is happy when I meet him in his classroom after school. He is bringing home stories to tell and artwork to hang on the fridge, and he is participating in classroom activities (well, most of them: they go to a Music and Movement class each week that Evan Does Not Like. He doesn't like the singing, the interpretive dancing with scarves, or the Participation Stamps the kids get on their hands at the end of class. He thought the solution to avoiding having dirty ink on his hands was to sit on the sidelines during class and refuse to play along. The teacher greeted him with a cheerful, "Oh, that's okay! EVERYone gets a stamp!" which was NOT okay with Evan.).

But preschool is going well....for the most part. School mornings are still pretty sad and drop-off had gotten completely out of control: I was walking Evan into his classroom, helping him unpack his things, helping him to "get settled" in one of the Open Centers, and then *trying* to say goodbye. But then his eyes would fill up with tears, his bottom lip would start to quiver, and I found myself unable to leave. So I'd try to help him find a different center, I'd back away towards the door, and he'd follow me. I'd give him one more hug, an "I'll miss you, too, but you'll have FUN!", and I'd try to sneak out while the teachers attempted to distract him with a Special Job. It was tough.

But then, on Monday, we hit rock bottom. It was the classic scene: a sobbing child (and teary mommy) (and squirmy "I walk now all by MYself, MOMMY!" 2-year old) who needed to be PEELED off me by the teacher. It was awful. After I wrangled the Wild Thing across the parking lot and composed myself in the car, I called Sam to figure out what to do. We couldn't figure it out. "I'm sure he's fine now, though," Sam said, "it's just the saying goodbye that is so hard for him." And he was right. I called the school ten minutes later and asked the assistant director to go and check on him. He was fine...participating happily in an ART PROJECT of all things. And at pick-up time? Happy as a clam.

And so the brainstorming began. How to ease the transition between Mommy and School, if school itself isn't the problem?

Both the teacher and my sister suggested Happy Drop-Off "Incentives," aka: Give the kid candy after school if there are no tears at The Goodbye. The promise of something special would help soften the transition, and it could easily be scaled back once the problem diminished.

Since yesterday, we have talked a lot about our new morning routine. I would walk Evan into the classroom, help him to unpack his things, and give him a kiss goodbye. Then, HE would find a center to play at, or he could choose to "just walk around," or ask his teacher for help finding an activity. If there were no tears, a piece of Halloween candy would be waiting in his carseat after school. This morning, every time he said that he felt sad about going to school, I corrected him. "You don't feel sad about going to school. You like school. You have fun at school! You tell me everyday that you wish you could stay at school longer. What you feel sad about is Saying Goodbye. And you're allowed to feel sad about that. Saying goodbye is hard. I'm going to make that hard part easier by letting you have a piece of candy after school if we can say goodbye without tears."

It felt wrong to say that, but I'm learning that sometimes, a Quick Fix in parenting is the right fix. You don't always have to psychoanalyze every anxiety or worry or tantrum. You don't always need to get to the bottom of an issue and fix it from the inside out. Sometimes you just need to break a bad habit cycle, which is what we were in. And sometimes, to break a cycle, you need to introduce a distraction, which is what the candy was...a Distraction.

And it worked!

It helped that we were able to sit in traffic on the way to school and watch the road-paving crew and their cool trucks get to work. And it helped that, due to the traffic caused by the road-paving crew, we were late to school...which meant that, instead of entering the noisy, not-yet-settled classroom with the rest of the class, we walked in to the quiet hum of ten kids playing happily at their centers. And, it helped that both of his teachers met Evan at the door with great big smiles and a welcoming "Look what we're doing today, Buddy!" And there wasn't a single tear.

(Until I told Max that he wasn't allowed to run across the parking lot without holding my hand.)

Lesson Learned:
The parenting experts may not agree that resorting to bribery was the Right thing to do, but it worked today and will hopefully work for the next few school days. And then, when we're in a Happy Drop-Off cycle, we can scale back the treats and just focus on the Happy.

When I picked up my smiling, happy, Just Rescued A Daddy-Long-Legs From The Dangerous Playground, kiddo, I praised him mightily for having such a great day. And when I gave him his Life Saver Gummy Mummies, he looked up at me and said, "It was scary at first, but then, I think I learned my lesson." We both did, buddy, and we will keep doing so as the lessons continue to change.

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