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Overcoming separation and tears on the first days of school (your kid is not the only one crying)

Carlotta Cerri

I thought Emily would rock starting nursery. Apart rare times, she’s always been so happy with any nanny she’s had, she’d always kiss me goodbye and go on playing; in Canada I left her in a new place with quite a few different (and lovely) girls that she had never met before, and she never had a problem. But I didn’t take one factor into account: all those times, she was with Oliver.

So history repeats itself, and the first day of nursery it was clear to me that I’ll have to go through another hard, emotionally heartbreaking and exhausting adaptation process.

The second day, when I left her at school, even though insecure, she marched in with Oliver and her guide Philippa; I said goodbye, she saw me walk away, and she went in anyway (she’s a little warrior like her mommy). Great start! She probably held it together till Oliver wasn’t in her sight anymore, but when she realised that she was in a room full of strangers and no Oliver, she had a meltdown, and kept crying on and off for the whole time. I don’t blame her.

Actually, I don’t blame anybody.

My first thought was, ”If only they were more engaging singing songs out loud and mocking around to distract her; if only they redirected her attention to food; if only they took her in their arms; if only they knew her as well as I do” and all the non-sense that an emotional mother goes through when she knows her child is struggling.

My second thought was, “Maybe she’s not ready yet, maybe this is her way of telling me that she needs more time at home with me, maybe I should listen to who told me to delay nursery as much as possible”, and all the non-sense that an emotional mother goes through when she knows her child is struggling.

My third thought was, “I’m being selfish, I can find other times and ways to work without having to put her through this suffering, my blog is not nearly as important as my kids’ happiness so I can sacrifice it for a bit longer”, and all the non-sense that an emotional mother goes through when she knows her child is struggling.

My next thought was, “Carlotta, listen to yourself! What on earth are you saying? You made a decision because in your heart you feel it’s the right one, and deep inside you knew that this was going to happen: that’s why you have a cold sore and have been sleeping badly for a few nights now. So cut the bullshit:

  • There’s nothing the teachers could do or say to make it easier for Emily, she’ll have to go through it like Oliver did. Change is always hard, but always for the better; 2. She IS ready and she’s actually been begging for new stimuli for months. This healthy and necessary separation will also help her obsession with you and the boobie; and 3. You are not selfish, your me-time is as valuable as their happiness, and you’re 100% entitled to it”, and all the sense that an emotional mother can make when rationality kicks in.

Some say you should start your kid in nursery as soon as possible if you don’t want a struggle. Others say after the year. Others say definitely not between 12 and 18 months. Others say if you haven’t started them by the time they’re 18 months, wait until they’re three. Or always wait until they’re three. Or skip nursery, go straight to school.

None of it is true. Truth is, some kids struggle when separating from parents to start nursery or school, others don’t. I’ve seen and heard it all, no matter how small or big the kids were, how used they were to be apart from their mom and dad, and how extrovert or introvert they were. I’ve heard of babies and toddlers go in happy from day one and never shed a tear—yep, they do exist! But more often, I’ve heard of babies as young as four months cry for weeks before settling. I’ve heard of kids as old as four years old take months to go without crying. And everything in between.

When it comes to separation, there are no rules. No ideal age. No tricks or tips to make it easier. No one to point fingers at. No blame to assign. You just have to pick a school you trust, man up, hand your crying baby to a stranger and know in your heart that they’ll do anything in their power to make the process less hard.

Say your quick goodbye, turn your back, walk away, go through thought number 1, thought number 2 and thought number 3. Then take a deep breath and patiently wait until rationality kicks in.

This, too, shall pass.

PS. Good luck if, like me, you have a little one starting nursery/school right now and struggling.

Some "tricks" that are helping us overcome separation and tears:

  • Talking about school A LOT at home. I find this works well for us especially before going to sleep, when Emily is relaxing on the boobie.
  • In the morning, while going to school, remind her what's going to happen (we'll walk to the gate, mommy will say bye-bye, you'll give a big hug and kiss to mommy, and then you walk in, go play in the patio with the other kids [names]…).
  • Ask the school for pictures and show her at home, naming all the children and the teachers, and getting her interested about what we see in the environment.

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