The Teacher's Story
"I WON'T LEAVE Molly here," said Allison, defiantly. She was clutching a faded cloth doll. My other 3-year-olds were lined up to go outside. "It's O.K., bring Molly along," I conceded, reminding myself that it was only Allison's second week of school. After all, we bad encouraged bringing favorite cuddlies, and toys usually appear during rest period, story time, or at occasional homesick moments. But Molly has been Allison's constant companion, and her refusal to let go of it limits the child's participation in other activities. Outdoors, Molly stands in the way of children on wheel toys and climbers, and indoors, the everpresent doll keeps Allison from two-handed activities like cooking, art projects, or pouring juice. Circle activities that involve holding two other children's hands are curtailed too. I am wondering whether we should start to encourage brief "rests" from clinging to Molly. Maybe I made a mistake in telling Allison's mom that Allison could bring Molly every day.
The Parent's Story
IT WAS A relief to see Allison adjust so easily. She didn't cling or protest about my leaving her at school, but at the teacher's suggestion I did stay for the first day. I was glad that the teacher allowed Allison to keep Molly with her. When Allison has Molly, she's O.K. But now I've begun to suspect that the doll's presence in the classroom may not be all that positive. Last evening, chattering in the bathtub, Allison said that she didn't go on the climber or do a "pra-jet" because she knew Molly didn't want to stay alone in the cubby. Today she said Molly "doesn't want me to play at the water table with Louise." That sort of thing hasn't ever happened at home. Allison instructs the doll to wait indoors while she rides her tricycle, goes in a wading pool, or plays at a friend's sandbox. And she often leaves Molly in the car when we're at the park, the zoo, or a restaurant. But of course, Molly must sleep in Allison's bed.
When we get a baby-sitter or when Allison finds herself in a new situation, Molly becomes more essential. I have never tried to dissuade Allison from her dependence on the doll, figuring she would eventually outgrow it. But now I'm afraid that Molly is interfering with school, and I wonder if I should talk to Allison's teacher about this.
I've been reluctant to do that because it's embarrassing. And maybe she'll say it was a mistake for us not to have separated Allison from Molly before school started.
Dr. Brodkin's Assessment
Allison's attachment to her doll is not a cause for concern. "Transitional objects" like Molly offer a comfortable compromise between security needs and the urge for independence. Allison should certainly not be pressured to give hers up. However, there are things that both the teacher and the parent can do to help Allison grow less reliant on Molly.
What the Teacher Can Do
The teacher has wisely suggested that parents remain in the room until their children are ready to separate and encouraged families to bring special objects from home. Happily, she recognizes the importance of gradual separation and connecting school and home.
Allison's transition might be easier if she sees a trusting relationship develop between her teacher and parent. Some teachers make home visits early in the year. That would help to break the ice, but so would frequent informal teacher-parent chats, where the adults can share their observations about Allison's reliance on Molly. Informal get-togethers and newsletters describing plans and expectations for the first few weeks of school may not only help the children, but boost parents' comfort levels as well.
For a while, the teacher should expect that at least nap time, story time, and transition times will elicit a need for Molly.
What the Parents can Do
Although Allison isn't expressing it directly, she has mixed feelings about being away from home and family. So it may be a good idea for the parent or other family member to spend more time in the classroom, gradually moving out to the director's office or elsewhere in the building. It's also good to start the day on a positive note. Maybe mother and daughter can have a special time together at breakfast or plan an afterschool activity. It helps to greet the teacher together and talk about the activity that awaits them at the end of the day.
The parent should confer with the teacher. Their joint efforts will enable Allison to grow secure and freer to enjoy school, while Molly waits on the sidelines.