I drop my son off at kindergarten every morning. And almost every morning, he cries when I leave. It is without a doubt the hardest moment of my day – both for me and for him. And I know many parents have similarly difficult experiences with their own kids. Author Petra Krantz Lindgren from Sweden has written extensively on the subject — and has come up with some surprising advice on how to best deal with such situations. Her book, loosely translated to “Keeping your child’s self-esteem in mind” has since been a top bestseller in the country. It has not yet been translated into English. Her tips were so refreshing! Read on, this could really help.
It is painful for us when our children are sad. “Children are so precious and deserve all the happiness in the world, they should be kept far from pain and sadness, anxiety and fear at all costs!” This is a familiar idea all around the world.
And that parents think and feel this way is quite natural. We of course love our children! But when we begin trying to adjust reality to try to make this ideal come true – to create environments free from pain and sorrow, worry or fear – I think we are actually doing children a disservice. I believe that children (and adults for that matter) feel good when they are allowed to feel a wide range of emotion.
My daughter is learning to understand that all feelings are important and valuable. What I am going to tell you now is actually painful and not easy to share. But I believe and hope that my story can help others by offering some insight, hope and inspiration to parents everywhere.
My daughter was four when she began kindergarten. Until that point, she had been at home with me. The first month of kindergarten life was new and exciting. She went with joy and anticipation, quickly waved goodbye to me and ran out to join the other kids.
A month later came the common ‘setback’. The novelty had subsided and the school had lost its shine. She was sad when I left her. First, she cried quietly, but gradually her cries grew more and more desperate. She ran after me, clinging to my legs. That’s what it was, every morning, when I dropped her off. Every morning, without exception, for a little more than a year!
And every morning, without exception, for a little more than a year, the incredibly well-meaning teachers at the preschool did their best to cheer her up and distract her with other thoughts:
– Let’s go and see if Amanda has arrived! She misses you!
– You can help prepare breakfast!
– What beautiful braids you have today!
And every morning, without exception, for a little more than a year, I strained to put into words the feelings that I assumed were behind the desperate crying. I had taken my own courses on child psychology and was ‘trained’ on how to ‘acknowledge’ a child’s feelings.
– Are you sad sweetie?
– Is it hard for you today?
– You miss me when we’re not together, is that it?
The problem, I now understand in retrospect, was that neither I nor the well-meaning educators respected my daughter’s feelings. We wanted so desperately for her to stop being sad and instead be filled with joy, zeal and enthusiasm and run anxiously to the other kids in the yard. Secretly, I even wished that she would have a twinkle in her eyes at the mere mention of kindergarten, as I heard other kids did.
So one morning on impulse I asked my daughter:
– Is it that you want to be sad when I drop you off at kindergarten?
– Yes, of course, because I miss you mom.
– Do you wish that you would not miss me?
– No, I will miss you when we’re not together.
– The problem is that I can’t be left alone to be sad as I please.
Her response changed something in me. Suddenly, it was not at all important to me that she should be happy when I left her at school. I wanted her to get to have her grief! I also feel sad when we part.
Together with her teachers we discussed how she would like things to be when she was feeling sad in class. She told me she wanted to sit in a special chair, in a special room, where she could be alone. She wanted to have access to paper and pens so she could draw a little while she was feeling sad. Needless to say, we gave her just what she asked for.
A few days later, for the first time in a little over a year, I dropped off, not a wildly crying five-year-old but instead a peaceful, tranquil little girl. A few days later, I received a brief kiss before she was running to the other children with a smile on her face.
That afternoon when we walked home from kindergarten, she suddenly blurted:
– Today I was not sad when you left me mom. I think that I can miss you and be happy at the same time.
I think that when she finally, after more than a year, gained respect for her loss and her grief, she was also able to get in touch with all her other emotions. But as long as we, both myself and her teachers, did not leave her alone with her feelings, then she could not get rid of them alone.
To me, this story comes with an incredibly important lesson. I truly understood for the first time that there are no “good” or “bad” feelings. All feelings are equally important and deserve as much respect. It is only when we allow children the space to feel all of their emotions that they are also free to feel real joy.
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