I spoke with a parent on Thursday whose son began 4-year-old kindergarten last week. He’s a veteran, his mom thought, having gone to daycare four times a week all his life. Yet, after the initial hype of first day, new clothes, photos, special attention, her son has started to act out in ways she hadn’t seen before.
She shared he gets upset easily, quickly reacting to situations by outbursts of hitting and shouting, acts helpless when doing something familiar like putting on his shoes, says he’s too tired to walk, too tired to go to school and, in fact, she said, he does appear fatigued.
Wow – can any of us adults recall how we might have felt after the first week of a brand new job? So many new rules, new people, new information bombarding us. Does stressed- out or over-whelmed come to mind?
This is exactly the way a child can feel experiencing a new situation where different expectations are being introduced, new faces, new social interactions and perhaps less independent choices, more directed group work required.
It can be exhausting. Concentrating on using our “grown-up” side, even for three hours, can be taxing. It’s a relief to be back in the security and coziness of home where one feels safe enough to say no, whine a bit, demand some TLC.
Regression – it happens to all children – and yes, even to us adults.
Ever crawled under a favorite comforter, committed to staying there for a very long time? Or over-indulged by eating the whole sleeve of an Oreo cookie package, or the entire bag of chips, pined for your own mommy to take care of you, had a mini-breakdown in front of your best friend?
Regression manifests itself during periods of change, stress, too high expectations, fatigue. It’s two steps ahead and one step back, even as one continues on the forward path. It’s the one-step- back spot that this little guy finds himself.
“And so,” ventured this mom, “how do I get this behavior to stop?”
“Gently”, I advised. If we meet this behavior head on, trying to “nip it in the bud”, not recognizing it for what it is, we chance prolonging it, creating a dragged-out power struggle. Here are a few things to consider.
Create a climate of calm in your home during these first few weeks. Take a raincheck on evening and after school activities during this adjustment stage.
Work hard to make sure bedtimes are regular and your child is getting a good night’s rest.
Connect. Try to have enough time before school to spend some eye-to-eye contact- converse over a bowl of cereal, read a favorite book, help him with his socks.
Limit screen time – TV, video and computer.
Have a healthy snack ready and waiting when she comes home, even if you know she always has one at school.
Limit “twenty questions” about what happened at school, etc. and allow the information to naturally unfold as your child begins to relax at home. Be patient.
Try to pace yourself to match the pace of your child. Offer to help with shoes before he whines or throws them. Get ready earlier yourself so he does not feel rushed.
Stop the hitting and yelling at you by removing yourself. “I don’t like to be talked to like that. Find me when you can talk in a kinder voice.” Then have a conversation about this behavior at a later time during the day when you know he’ll be able to “listen” and problem solve a different way to act.
Relax. Breathe. Smile.
This period of adjustment will pass.