Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mommy Comes Back

Time for another update regarding Tory's progress in the toddler program at preschool. I want to have documentation of our journey through this stage in Tory's development as her interest in "school" seems to evolve every week. It's now been eight weeks since we started our school district's ECFE program and yesterday was the first day Tory didn't cry the minute she realized where we were spending our morning. Progress!

One thing the parent educator (whom I love, by the way) said to me a few weeks ago is that staying home with Tory everyday isn't a bad thing. It's a good thing, I just have to be more planful in creating opportunities for Tory to experience the world without me. Now, I know staying at home with my child(ren) isn't a bad thing, but at the beginning of this program I felt discouraged watching Tory's fellow classmates easily handle separation from their parents while my child struggled. As trying as the last eight weeks have been for both of us, Tory's slowly making progress in learning how to function independently in a school setting.

To recap, the first four weeks were the most difficult. Period. Tory sobbed uncontrollably anytime I mentioned the word "school," and repeated "Mommy, stay! Mommy, stay!" in a frantic voice until I reassured her I wouldn't leave her. She'd cling to me for days after class because she was fearful she'd be left behind. School was difficult for her, and it was hard on me as her mother. I felt like I was pressuring Tory to do something she wasn't ready for and I was also mentally exhausted by the excessive whining and clinginess.

After a month of serious drama, I made the executive decision not to separate from Tory during class time. Tory associated all things "school" with separation and the minute she figured out where we were going on Tuesday mornings, she burst into tears. She cried before, during and after class. She cried if we read a book about school or saw her blue school bucket sitting in the closet. I decided it was better for Tory to have a positive experience at school in general than to focus on parent / child separation. I reassured Tory I would stay with her the entire class time. I would not leave her. And, I didn't. At first, she clung to me like glue, but eventually started to relax a bit and interact in her class. With me in the classroom, Tory also became more familiar with the toddler room teacher and some of her little classmates.

Last Tuesday at school (Week 7), Tory seemed interested in playing with toys when parent / child separation time came, so I told her I'd be back in a bit and left. She cried, of course, but I never got called back to the classroom. Tory made it through the entire 45 minutes of separation time by herself. When the parents came back to the classroom at the end of the session, Tory was beaming from ear to ear. Her face was red so she'd obviously been upset but she wasn't crying at the moment. The teacher said they read Tory's favorite book during snack time and Tory was able to (mostly) hold it together during class. I'm pretty sure the teacher comforted her most of the time.

Yesterday for the first time, Tory didn't cry in the car on the way to school. She told me she didn't want to go to school when she saw me load up her school bucket into the car, but she wasn't too upset. We arrived at school and Tory used the bathroom before class, as has been our routine. They have a kid-sized toilet which Tory really likes and it provides good motivation to get her inside the school building. After using the bathroom and washing her hands, Tory marched right down the hallway to her classroom door and picked up her name tag. She walked inside the classroom on her own (!!) and immediately started to color at the easel station. I was so impressed! Even the teachers commented how happy Tory seemed to be at school. Tory happily played during free time and was engaged in singing and dancing during circle time. When it came time for me to leave for the parent / child separation portion of class, I kissed Tory on the head and told her Mommy would be back soon. She started to cry and the teacher came over to console her. I waited for the call to come back to the classroom, but it never came. At the end of class, Tory was beaming with excitement when she saw me at the door. "Mommy came back!" she said, wrapping her arms around my neck and planting a big kiss on my cheek. "Yes, Mommy always comes back," I said. After eight weeks, Tory is finally getting it! The teacher reported that none of the kids cried during the session and they sang, danced, read books and ate a snack as a class.

It's been interesting -- the "Mommy comes back!" -- phrase. Tory says it regularly now, whenever the world "school" is mentioned in passing or even when she has a babysitter at home. At night when Andi comes home from work, Tory says "Daddy came back!" when she hears the garage door opening. I know it's on her mind quite a bit because randomly she'll say to me, "Tory school. Mommy comes back." It's taken two months of practice, but Tory's developing the recognition and memory associated with a parent leaving and coming back to her again. I'm so proud of my little girl and how far she's advanced in this journey. There were times I questioned if we were doing the right thing for her, but now I'm confident signing Tory up for toddler preschool was a good thing. Plus, I'm gaining some valuable insight in the parent-portion of class by listening and learning about toddler development. I'm excited to watch Tory's progress through the remainder of the year.


  1. The thing that kind of stinks about ECFE is that is that parents start separating gradually in the under-18 mo classes and by the time Toddlers & Twos (or whatever your district's version is named) rolls around, they expect separation right away. It can be especially jarring for someone (both parent and child) who hasn't been enrolled before. You did the right thing by letting Tory get comfortable and build trust in the teachers.

  2. Whoops, I forgot Part II: My daughter started ECFE at 12 months, had similar issues with separation, but was comfortable within a few months. Not even a year later she is in all-day preschool two days a week and it has been a pretty stress-free separation-wise. I attribute that to ECFE. So when Tory is ready for preschool, this experience you're giving her will only benefit her.

  3. Definitely, trust is the key! I'm a veteran toddler teacher and I love hearing about school separation from a parent’s perspective (just came across this post and had to give it a thumbs up). The only way sensitive children learn that mommy always comes back is by experiencing it firsthand, hence beginning to trust in the process. After 20 years of teaching I have never known a child not to separate. There are things you can do to speed up the process. At our school there is a mommy and me bridge camp, which helps to familiarize children with the school environment. If a child knows what to expect it’s a lot easier when it’s time for mom to say goodbye. I wrote a picture book, Mommy Always Comes Back by Penny Schnee-Bosch, to help prepare children for their experience. They can totally see themselves in the story thus giving them a sense of control and security. Sounds like you're doing all the right things!