How to help the child who has difficulty separating from a comfort object.
Between Teacher and Parent
The Teachers Story
GERMAINE STOOD AS CLOSE to her cubby as she could, eyeing her special blanket, obviously longing to hold it. Tears filled her eyes when I invited everyone to the rug for a story. I knew she was sad about not having the blanket with her. It's been a problem since she started school last week. For the first time, it has nearly broken my heart to follow the school's policy about leaving objects from home in children's cubbies. I know that items from home can be a distraction and interfere with our program plans, but this 3-year-old seems desperate to have her lovey. I do give her a chance to visit it during breaks in activities. Maybe that isn't so smart though, because each time I ask her to come back and join us in whatever we're doing, she's sad again. I saw no sign of this attachment to the blanket during the home visit I made before school started and had heard nothing about it from her parents, even in their written descriptions. The portrait they presented was of a cheerful child who had never been in a formal group situation before but was at ease with friendly adults and children in their old neighborhood. They had just moved to a new community and were optimistic about their daughter fitting in. I don't know why Germaine wants to cling to her blanket, but I have a hunch that she would do better if she could have it by her side, at least in these early days. How do I help Germaine and still follow the school rules?
The Parent's Story
WE'RE WORRIED ABOUT Germaine. I knew it might take some time for her to adjust to preschool, but I didn't think she'd be so preoccupied with her blanket. She never insisted on carrying anything around with her. We thought she was really ready for school, but now we're wondering. In this preschool, children are not permitted to take things that they brought from home out of their cubbies. But Germaine doesn't understand why she can only have the blanket during rest time. She is so tied to it that yesterday when I forgot to bring it, she cried until I agreed to go back home to retrieve it. Things are not totally organized at home yet. We just moved to our new house a few weeks ago. Some of Germaine's toys are still in boxes. Maybe that is confusing her too. I guess we expected Germaine to be excited about the bigger backyard at home and the wonderful toys and equipment at school. Instead, she may be missing her old life. What can we do now to help her feel better?
Dr. Brodkin's Assessment
Germaine's behavior is not remarkable. She is only 3 and has been asked to make two significant life changes almost at the same time. First, she left familiar sights and sounds, a familiar home, neighborhood, and the people in it. Starting school for the first time is a major step, and returning to a still-unfamiliar home is very likely adding to the stress.
What the Teacher Can Do
Fortunately, Germaine's teacher seems very sensitive to young children's emotional issues. In fact, the teacher herself is torn between her commitment to school policy and her intuition about what Germaine needs right now. As she senses, gradual separation, allowing a child to set the pace-is the best recipe for success. In this instance, the child has latched onto an object from home for security. School policy on such matters should be flexible if it means enabling the child to make a smoother transition from home to school. It would be wonderful if the teacher could approach her director with a request to allow Germaine to keep the blanket with her (or nearby) for the better part of the school day. As Germaine becomes increasingly free from worry and able to enjoy classroom activities, the blanket will become less important. The teacher should continue her collaboration with the parents, assuring them that their daughter's distress is only temporary.
What the Parent Can Do
Children often experience events differently from the way adults do. What is an exciting move to a new home for her parents probably has been simply unsettling to Germaine. And starting school for the first time is always a major hurdle. That is why it is often helpful for a parent to stay in the classroom until the child really doesn't need her there. If that is not possible, having some comforting object from home may be the next best thing. The parents need to work closely with the teacher and have faith in their daughter's capacity to adapt at her own rate. At home, lots of oneon-one playtime, with parents tuning in to Germaine's feelings, will also contribute to a smoother transition.