Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My kid is still crying at the school gate. Some swear filled advice.

So term one is well and truly under way, if you have a kid in Kindy, this is when everything is supposed to settle down right? Those kids who don’t separate as easily as others are supposed to be now gleefully running through a shower of bubbles through the school gate throwing rose petals in the air and blowing you kisses from the bag rack yes?

You have moved passed the first day nerves, the routine and new sleeping patterns have established and your kid has adjusted well to the new demands that a long day of school brings them.
Or maybe they haven’t? 
Maybe your kid’s face crumples at bedtime on a school night, maybe your kid cries in bed that they don’t want to go to school again tomorrow. Maybe you all greet the school morning with a sense of dread at the fight that will inevitably come. Maybe you are still holding back your own tears as your child cries and calls for you as their new teacher takes their hand and leads them into the classroom. Hell, maybe you are still prying tiny little fingers off of the classroom stair rail or door frame as your child kicks and pleads with you as they enter the classroom.

What if dropping your kid off at the classroom, placing their bag on the hook and walking away, still feels as though you are feeding your child to the lions every. Damn. Day.

If you are in the latter category, huge hugs to you my friend, I have been there and it isn’t easy. It is heart wrenching awful and exhausting. You are certainly not as alone in this as you feel however.

I have three children, all at school. Wait… *All at school high five.

 When the eldest child was in kindy, he spent the first few weeks settling in. There were tears, for a little longer than most of the kids, but by midway through term two he had settled down and was happy to go to school.

 When the youngest child was in kindy, she cried on the first day, and then stopped short of hanging me the finger as she bolted through the school gate every day after; such is her love of it.

The middle kid though, he cried every. Damn. Day. 

He clawed at the rail of the classroom, he called out my name, and there were tears, screams, foot stomping indigence that started the evening before a school day. There was a short respite when we finally picked him up that lasted perhaps a few hours before the battle began again. 
Term one finished and we began the battle again in term two. 

Term two had finished and he ceased clawing at the school rail, but he still cried for me as he walked into the classroom. 

Term three began and he was still crying every evening. By term four we would get a few days of the school week that he didn’t shed a tear in the morning, and I would hold on to the hope that he was finally settling in, and then we would have another bad day.

Two steps forward, four steps back.

I have experienced the full spectrum of school starters.

I would love to tell you that your kid will eventually embrace going to school, that they will one day gleefully run through the school gate and not give you a second thought until pick up time, and they may!! But my middle child is now in year five and as much as you probably don’t want to hear this, most school mornings are still a battle with him. 

He no longer cries at the school gate, but he enters the classroom with a defeated and angered expression on his face. Sometimes he bombards me with indignant reasons as to why he shouldn’t have to go to school, but he does it with a sad sense of acceptance. Kind of like Kanye when BeyoncĂ© fails to snag yet another music award. All “ I’mma let you finish, but going to school is shit, I know it, you know it, we all know it..”

If there is a time when he will eventually settle into going to school we are yet to see it. 

I can’t promise you that your kid will one day be overcome with a profound love of going to school.
What I can guarantee you though is that it gets easier. 

The tears WILL stop, you won’t always feel like a monster on a weekday and school will not always be an emotionally draining and exhausting experience. You won’t always be wanting weekdays to suck your shiny magenta sav.

After doing the school drop off for going on eleven years now, six of those with a kid that loathes school more than Abbott hates women, gays and poor people.

 I can share with you some of the things I have learned along the way that have made our school battles a little easier. They may be worth a try for you.


  1. Exercise caution with the reward system.

By all means, use a reward system if your child is wired that way, all I am saying is to be careful of what the rewards are. Like, there was this one time when the kid REALLY wanted a FIFA game. All of his friends, and their friends and their descendants had this game. He wanted it so badly. So naturally, I offered this game as the golden ticket to making all of our school days a little more stress free. You make a profound effort to go to school with little complaint for a fortnight, a month, a whole term and the game is yours my friend. While it worked for a while, incredibly well in fact, for a whole term he made as much of an effort as he could to get ready and prepared for school with little complaint. Those times he slipped, a gentle reminder of the game meant that our battles were shorter lived... That is, until he got the game.
Then all he wanted to do was play the game, and this golden idol became a reminder of all the free time he didn’t have to play it because he had to go to school. If you are using a reward system, I advise offering your child a reward that will get the most joy being used at school. A super ridiculously expensive pencil case, that to you looks no different to the one you saw at Kmart for 99c, but your kid wants it anyway, or lunch orders, tuck shop money. For us, it was a brand new pair of basketball shoes that he could only wear on sport days was the most effective of all rewards.

2. Tell them nothing of what happens when they are at school.

You know that look on your kids face when they realise that a younger sibling got a happy meal in their absence? They smell the French fries in the car, they know it happened, you know it happened; their younger sibling is already rubbing their happy meal toy gleefully in your older child’s face. These things are a constant reminder of what your child is missing out on when they are at stupid school. If I had a shopping trip, or a day at the park with the younger child, or basically if I did anything that didn’t involve sitting in a corner of my home, eating plain rice and sobbing until my kid got home from school, it was a reminder of everything that he was missing out on when he wasn’t at home with us. I am by no means telling you not to do anything while your kid is at school, just don’t mention it. Have a talk to younger children about how rubbing in their happy meal toy might make their older sibling feel. Get a little token surprise that only your school kid can have when they return if you must. Whatever you do though, never let your child hear you make any plans for the following day the night before. Just… For fuck sake, don’t.. It’s not worth it.

3. Be prepared, but not too prepared.

Give your kid as much control over their school day as you can. Let them plan their lunch for example. Take them shopping to pick their own school lunch supplies. Give them a choice between fruits for example; let them pick a lunchbox treat. Give them a budget, and let them spend the change from that budget if they happen to go under it. Letting them know that there are some perks to getting older and being school aged can work wonders. Just don’t go overboard with the planning for the next day, I tried this and it didn’t work. Getting out uniforms and shoes and library bags for the next day was just a big sucky reminder of what was to come the next day. You can be as prepared as you like; just don’t have your kid’s uniform staring you in the face as they drift off to sleep if you know what I mean.

4. Team sports.

I asked a couple of parents from my kid’s class if they did any after school activities. Putting your kid in a team sort with the kids from their class is a good incentive to get them to school. It can distract them, makes them tired, and helps them make friends. It meant that some days, he would go to school eager to talk to a friend about what happened at last night’s soccer training, even if he wasn’t eager to go to school and learn.
 If team sports aren’t going to fit into your family commitments or budget, try teaming up with another parent. One of the most effective ways to get through a morning shit storm I found was to organise to meet another kid just a little bit away from the school gate. Together my son and his friend would walk together in to school. This worked for several reasons, firstly he had someone else depending on him to be there on time, and secondly, meeting a friend was a distraction. We weren’t met with the ominous school gate every morning. Instead he was met by a friendly face, and they would talk and swap cheap toys to play with that day on the walk into school, it seemed to distract his attention away from the actual act of going to school.

5. Don't Give in.

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t give up, and DON”T GIVE IN!!! I know this, because I did give in, ALL the time. That’s OK, because it was bloody hard, but I have learned that giving credibility to the feigned tummy aches and letting your kid have mental health days actually does more harm than good in the long run. If your kid is convincing in their symptoms of being sick, squinted eyes, croaky voice, exaggerated moaning and stomach clutching while complaining of a sore throat and headache, make sick days as BORING as you possibly can. Days of school for being sick, should be spent in bed with a book. Don’t get out of bed unless you need to wizz or eat and drink. No TV. No iPod. Lay in bed, all stinking day. Now this may seem like your idea of heaven, for your child this is torture. As much as I wanted very badly to indulge my poor baby, making time spent away from school more interesting and appealing than going to school will not do me any service in the long run.

6. Lastly.

Be kind to yourself too. Having a kid that hates school is HARD yo. It’s exhausting and mentally draining. We are not made to cope well when our children are crying out our name, and becoming distressed. Have a cry if you need to, but don’t cry in front of your kid. 

Hold that shit in till you get in the car, then crank some sad music and lose your shit like Chris Crocker if you have to... All “LEAVE BRITTANY ALONE!!!” It’s OK to feel shit about this, you were made that way. Don’t let it consume you however.
Go have a coffee with a friend (Don't tell your school kid you did though) Remind yourself that you are doing OK.

If you are worried that there is another reason that your child isn’t settling, like perhaps the teacher is the wrong fit, there is some bullying or something happening, or something like that, then put your mind at ease by speaking with your child’s caregivers and teachers. Get reassurance from other parents if you need to. Chances are if something like this is going on their kid has mentioned something.

Remember though, that this too shall pass. I know when people say that to you, it just really makes you want to kick them in the neck, but it is true.

Our kids may still be upset in year five about going to school, but I have not come across a parent that tells me that their kid clawed and cried at the gates of university.

It will get easier. I promise.

All the best.

Emma x


Pinky Poinker said...

Hilarious. But as a teacher and mother I reckon the reason kids hate school is cos it's too good at home so mothers should never feel guilty because clearly they're awesome mothers. Your most outstanding tip was to never let on the good things that happened when they were at school. They must think home is the most boring place in the universe.

river said...

From the very beginning, the kindy stage, I would schedule an appointment to speak to his/her teacher and find out if the child is okay for the rest of the day once I'd left, or if the crying etc carried on.
if the kid was okay and settled once class began, I wouldn't worry, but if the fighting and crying went on, I'd probably take him/her out of school until the next birthday. Or arrange to see a counsellor and find out why this experience is so upsetting for him.

Trish said...

Oh wow - Emma I got off easy. Only my eldest cried at daycare for a few weeks , 5 mins till I was out of range. School was quiet and solemn but no tears.
The twins started daycare a bit confused and sad faced missing the (.) (.) but they got over it quickly. School no dramas. Yes, there was that kid who clawed at his mother, clenched the school gate or ran for 1-2 yrs and his Nan worked in the school too. Y3 I think he's good to go most days.