26 September 2011

Adjusting

"Mama, I don't like school," said Maddie to me as I kissed her goodnight tonight.

It's been clear to me since kindergarten started two-and-a-half weeks ago that the transition was hard on Maddie. She truly enjoys new experiences, but she also likes to know her place in the social structure, and she prefers that her place be on top. Kindergarten was a whole new ball game there. She has quickly picked up on the rhythms of the classroom, her Spanish is excellent, and generally "school" as a societal construct makes sense to her.

Her social world is, however, topsy-turvy. Her closest friends from preK are in her class, but so are a bunch of new kids, and there are a total of 28 small people in the room with only one responsible adult. Maddie wants to stick with what she knows—her friends from preK—and leave the newbies to the side, but it seems that last year's besties are testing their wings with the new kids. Riley is off with his friends, and Maddie is left feeling adrift.

Maddie's used to being the queen bee, so this is hitting her very, very hard. She's got a strong, some (ahem, her mother) might say bossy, personality, and it's hard for her to be so unsure of where she fits in, especially since where she fits in might not be as the leader. I'm sympathetic, but it's also made her a tyrant at home, with a need to control even more than usual and a need to try to control all kinds of things that are not reasonable. Like everything. There are threats and demands, there is yelling, and there are ultimatums. It's most unpleasant.

What I find most frustrating about it all is how hard it is to evaluate the information she gives me. Five year olds are charming storytellers, but notoriously unreliable narrators. Are her friends really deliberately excluding her on the playground all the time? Does she really have a toothache? What actually happens at school each day is a bit of a mystery to me. I can ask a seemingly straightforward question such as, "Did you go to the library today?" and get a yes from Maddie and a no from Riley. They're in the same class. "Well, maybe that was Friday," amends Riley, but the thing is there's no way for me to tell.

The details of the situation are in some ways unimportant. If Maddie is feeling hurt, left out, and nervous about how to fit in, then those feelings need to be addressed. As an adult, I find coming up with a strategy for addressing those feelings challenging without understanding the nuances of where those feelings are coming from. I can hug and love and reassure, but I'm empty-handed and silent when it comes to ideas for what to do during a lonely recess. She's been packing a lovey in her pocket, a small bear, which has helped. It might be that time is all that can help, and we've talked about how periods of adjustment and transition can take a while to feel settled.

It's just hard to watch your child struggle with big feelings. Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems, or so I've heard it said. She's still pretty little in many ways, but things are starting to feel big. In a few weeks, I'm doing something for the first time: taking each of the twins on an individual, overnight trip with me. My mom and stepdad will keep one of them and I'll take the other over to the Oregon coast for a night. I'm super excited to do this for a whole bunch of reasons. With Maddie, I hope that while we're away, we can really talk about what's bothering her, uninterrupted and with focus. Even if the talking doesn't lead us to any solutions, I think the attention will help her. Riley will love the attention, too, but Maddie really needs right now. Small(ish) girl, problems getting bigger.

15 comments:

Mizasiwa said...

My son is 5 as well and will be going to the 'big school' for a second year of grade R (pre school year) next year. I can see how as he gets closer to six the way he deals with his emotions is getting the best of him and I have found myself asking the same questions - how do you help them when they are so little experiencing something so BIG. poor little girl I hope this time passes quickly and that you two get the much needed and deserved *special* time together.

Arwen said...

Kindergarten can be a hard adjustment for kids even if they've gone to pre-K. I know, my 5 year old is there too... she's in speech and doesn't talk much so her stories never seem to match up with reality. She's gotten into trouble more in the past month and a half than her older sister has in 5 years of school. Sigh. She's aggressive and a fighter (usually only to correct an injustice) so I've been expecting it. The funny thing is, so far, she hasn't gotten in trouble for pushing, hitting, or biting like I feared... it's mostly talking in class (WTH? she's practically non-verbal), sitting on tables instead of chairs, climbing up the slide instead of the ladder and sticking her tongue out at another teacher who let the boys in her class cut my daughter and her class in line. There's never a note, just the circled color change on her sheet. I ask her what happened and I get some crazy adventure from her like a Rugrats episode then I ask the teacher and I get the real story and think "Seriously? That's it?"

I think they just need to adjust, I don't think anyone can do it for them or help... it's something they have to sort out on their own. I know we just went a whole week without a color change and then yesterday she changed again... her story? she bit a boy's finger off... I can't wait to hear what really happened... probably more talking in class...

Anonymous said...

My strong, bossy girl is having very similar issues at school this year (she just switched to a new school in second grade). Someone gave me a great piece of advice which I shared with her yesterday: If you're lonely at recess, find someone who looks like they need a friend and approach that person.

Mel'ni said...

Kindergarten is just hard. Both my kids came home and were quite cranky with me at night. It does get better. My daughter was having a similar situation in 2nd grade so I emailed the teacher who kept a watch out for a few days during recess. Every teacher my kids have had (they're in 9th and 7th grade now so we've had several) are very sensitive to the worries about a child feeling left out. It might help.

It might also be that when Maddie doesn't get her friends to play with only her she leaves the group and then feels like they're the ones who abandoned her. I volunteered a lot during the elementary years and saw that scenario several times with girls.

CV said...

She'll figure it out.

I recently read "How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk" and you know I'm not the self-help type! The one major take-away for me, because it is also my inclination to want to jump in with advice and a solution for all of N's gripes, was that my advice isn't the most helpful thing for her. She's going to learn how to get along from her peers, not from me. She just needs her worries acknowledged. Nowadays, I do as much of the "Oooh, that sounds hard!" and "Yes, I can see why you felt excluded." as I can.. and then (since I can't help myself, oops!) I usually follow up with, "Do you want to know what I would have done if that happened to me?" or "What would you tell so-and-so if that happened to her?" The amazing truth is that she already knows what options are open to her for dealing with the issues.. she just has to go through it anyway, I guess. Plus, it's never as bad as she describes it! She can make it sound like all the kids were running away from her when she wanted to play with them...and then it turns out it was a game of tag!

Good luck.. this too shall pass.

Jan said...

For whatever it's worth (and I share this because I always find it comforting to know that I/my kid am/is not alone in these things), one of my best friends is a 2nd grade teacher, and she says friendships are the things she most hears from parents who are worried.

That was the worst-constructed sentence ever. But what I'm saying is that out of all the worries parents have, the one she hears about most often is that they are worried (based on what they hear from their children) about the social scene. Not because parents are inherently shallow and only care about that, but because it's what their kids are bringing home.

Sorry Maddie is having a hard time. My little bossy-boots loved kindy, had a hard time with 1st grade, and seems to be doing better in 2nd.

Also I second the recommendation for How to Talk ... etc. In fact, I think I may be due for a re-read myself!

Miriam's mommy said...

My 5 year old daughter -- a few months younger than Maddie -- also has trouble making social transitions. For her, playdates are crucial. They give her a chance to get to know the kids one-on-one so that she has an easier time approaching them during recess. Would something like that help Maddie, especially to encourage her to get to know the new kids?

Sarah said...

I am 27, and I still remember the slings and arrows of kindergarten sooo clearly. (Maddie sometimes sounds a lot like me - I was "strong," too, and I had the inkling of the idea that I was smarter than everyone else and had better ideas, and it stung when people didn't want to do what I wanted to do.) It also sounds like maybe she's a little bit shy, like me (being bossy was actually a technique I used to take control of situations that made me feel anxious) - is she comfortable around people she knows, but aloof from people she doesn't? That could partially explain why she feels like she's being abandoned - she doesn't WANT to hang out with new children, the way her friends do.

Do 6-year-olds understand role-playing? Are they too old for "let's pretend"? Could you run some pretend situations where she feels uncomfortable on the playground, and help her work out ways to deal with them that would make her feel less lonely?

mek said...

We experienced this in the first two weeks of K, too, along with the anxiety-inducing (for Mama) "It's boring!" At the time, this was true - color and letter and number review was going on. But now, just over a month in, they are in groups as they go through the centers and the groups have stopped changing and school isn't really complained about anymore. I think C is getting some more appropriate materials to deal with (interestingly, she is in a group of three little girls...all their mothers are English teachers and writers...). Once the groups and seating arrangements stopped shifting around and things became more reliable, I think it was easier for her to get a handle on the social side, too. I hope the same will be true for Maddie, and that the growing pains of starting K are short-lived. But, it is so true that the growing pains are felt by the parents, too!

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

I hear you. The transition has been bumpy for us too. The school day seems okay but A is a bear when she gets home. The upside for us, I guess, is that the kids barely get recess so I don't think they have enough time to establish any kind of social heirarchy.

I think Mads and my A are cut from the same cloth so I am sending you a cyber I-understand- hug.

Little Bird said...

I've always been told (and believe) that a mother is only as happy as her least happy child. I'm sorry Maddie is having a rough time of it.

cooler*doula said...

My now first grade boy is a shy-ish kid. I ws worried about friends for him in Kindy, especially as his entire social circle from pre-K went off to the local private school, while we went public.

First, I voiced my worries to his teacher, and second, I went in and had lunch with him every now and then. It's an amazing opportunity to watch the social dynamic at work.

I learned a great deal, not least of which was that little girls are operating at a level of social awareness WAY beyond most of the boys. So, I guess it does not surprise me that she might be having a harder time than Riley as she navigates the new social scene.

Deborah said...

we went through something similar with my now 9 year old, as far as her saying, "I have no one to play with at recess."

Our solution was to pack a toy or game that she could bring out at recess. At the very least, it gave her something to do by herself, but more often than not, it engaged the other kids to come over to her, or gave her a concrete opening to invite another child to play with her.

Anonymous said...

You really need to find a way to help her feel comfortable and confident approaching new kids to make friends. If you cannot come up with an idea, ask someone you know who is outgoing to help Maddie. It breaks myheart to hear she feels lonely.

Kathleen said...

It'll all shake out. Try not to worry too much. She'll find her place in the group. Also, the playdates with classmates are a great idea! And meeting up at certain playgrounds in the neighborhood is also a good idea that we've tried.