THE TEACHER'S STORY
"Hurry, Samantha. We're going to cook soup!" Lynn said as she tugged at her friend's sleeve. While the other children gathered around me, I handed out carrots for them to scrape and thought about Samantha. Like many fours, she loves cooking. Then why was she so uninterested in joining us?
I watched Samantha tag along with her friend Lynn for the rest of the day. She sat on a swing during outdoor play, but her mind was clearly somewhere else. Later, she pushed a crayon back and forth across paper, then stared out the window. I was getting increasingly concerned about this child who had always been so happy and full of zest-until this week.
Toward the end of the day, Samantha wandered toward the dramatic-play area. I saw that she was doing something with stuffed animals and moved a bit closer so I could hear.
"I'm going away, and I'm not coming back," Samantha announced to the bear and kangaroo. "I don't want to take care of you anymore."
Just then, Mr. Morris, Samantha's dad, came in. It was 3:00, and he was rushing to pick up Samantha, take her to her new afternoon program, then get back to work. Suddenly, it all made sense! It was this new after-school arrangement that was upsetting Samantha. Her baby-sitter left last week, and Samantha must miss her a lot.
THE PARENT'S STORY
My wife and I were very concerned when our baby-sitter, Angie, told us she was leaving to go back to school. We were happy for Angie and glad that she'd been able to be with us for almost two years. But we knew Samantha would be upset.
The funny thing was that Sam didn't say much about Angle's leaving at first. And when we told her that after school she'd be going to a nice lady's house where she could play with other kids, she just shrugged and walked away.
Mrs. McKinley, the new caregiver, lives close to Samantha's school and to my office, so every afternoon I meet Samantha at school and we walk there together. Another child comes there from a different school at just about the same time, and a baby and a toddler are there for the whole day.
I love seeing my little girl in the afternoon, even for those few minutes. And I feel good about taking her to such a nice place. Mrs. McKinley is very kind, and her home is safe, clean, and cheerful. Everything is relaxed and informal, and there are loads of toys. But Samantha's been grumpy ever since she started going there. When my wife picks her up, Samantha won't look at her or hold her hand. That's simply not normal behavior for our daughter.
Then, last night at dinner, when we asked her about Mrs. McKinley's, she just blurted it out: "That's a baby place, and they don't even have good snacks. Why can't I come home after school?" Today, when I picked her up, she asked, "Why did Angie have to go?" It's distressing to see Samantha so unhappy. We really don't know what to do.
Dr. Brodkin's AssessmentThe parents and teacher are right. Angle's departure and the change in routine have affected Samantha's mood. She had a warm attachment to her baby-sitter, so, naturally, she is sad and angry about parting. Entering a different program is always a challenge for a young child. Samantha is faced with the issues of both separating and starting something new. Although the setting sounds like a fine one, it will take time for Samantha to get used to it. Also, she may be bewildered because there are younger children in her group. This child needs the patience and understanding of all the adults around her.
What the Teacher Can Do
It is crucial for the adults to keep the lines of communication open. With the parents' permission, Samantha's teacher and Mrs. McKinley should talk. Their ongoing dialogue will make it easier for Mrs. McKinley to help Samantha feel at home. The teacher can share what she knows about Samantha's interests and habits. Maybe together they could think of some appropriate responsibilities or privileges for her, to acknowledge that she's not a baby. And, at school, the teacher can help by showing that she understands the feelings Samantha expresses through play.
What the Parent Can Do
The transition from home to after-school care would be easier if each parent spent time with Samantha in her new situation. They might encourage her to bring a favorite toy. Later, Samantha's mom might try phoning her after her dad drops her off.
It's especially difficult for Samantha to accept the new arrangement because she misses her old caregiver. If her parents invite Angie for a visit, Samantha will see that change in routine doesn't have to mean she's lost a dear friend.