Letting Go of Mommy

How to make your child's transition to kindergarten — and the big wide world — as painless as possible.

The transition to kindergarten can stress out your child

Jennifer’s five-year-old daughter, Molly, couldn’t wait to go to school. Knowing that the transition to kindergarten can be difficult, Jennifer took Molly to see her new school and meet with the teacher.

So imagine Jennifer’s surprise when Molly, after three years in day care, came home furious on the first day of kindergarten and didn’t want to return.

“I realized,” says Jennifer, “that day care didn’t count. Molly had been going for so long that it felt like an extension of home.”

In kindergarten, where 20 children claimed the attention of the teacher, Molly’s needs weren’t met as quickly. And Molly wasn’t prepared for the routines of kindergarten. She could no longer wander off and play by herself. Instead, she was required to sit with the group for storytime, or draw only when the class was drawing.

Jennifer suspected that adoption was also an issue. Molly knew she had been adopted, but it was only in the last year that she began to understand what that meant. Her mother spoke often about Molly’s birth mother, about the fact that she had been adopted because her birth mother wasn’t able to care for her. In some basic way, Molly understood that she had been left. She worried about being left again. “She became more clinging,” says Jennifer, “more frightened I wouldn’t return.”

A Gradual Separation

In How to Raise an Adopted Child, Judith Schaffer and Christina Lindstrom suggest that a parent’s first step in this situation should be to acknowledge the problem: “Assure him that you understand what he is feeling and that there are other kids who are probably feeling the same way.” The next step is to work with your child to find solutions to the problem.

After talking to Molly’s teacher, Jennifer decided her daughter would feel better if the transition to kindergarten weren’t so abrupt. Once she’d delivered Molly to school, Jennifer stayed for 15 minutes, long enough for her to hang up her coat and settle down to do some drawing. By the time Jennifer left, Molly was comfortably engaged in another activity. Finally, she was able to part without the delayed leave-taking.

Jennifer also read her daughter a popular story, The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn. In the story, Chester Raccoon wants to stay home with his mother. She assures him that he’ll love school and also shares a family “secret.” Taking her son’s hand, she plants a kiss in his open palm. Whenever Chester feels lonely, he has only to press his hand to his cheek to feel that kiss.

After that, when she dropped Molly at school, Jennifer left her daughter with a kiss on the hand to take the little girl safely through her day.


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