Preschool Angst Sucks, But Don't Give Up Just Yet

by Wendy Wisner
preschool angst
Sergiy Bykhunenko / Shutterstock

I will admit that I was reluctant to send each of my boys to preschool. I was a stay-at-home mom and didn’t strictly need to send them anywhere. And frankly, it was hard to justify the cost of preschool when my family was on such a tight budget in the first place.

Plus, although I know not everyone feels this way, I really enjoyed having them with me 24/7 when they were small. We always seemed to find plenty to do and lots of fun ways to experience life and learn stuff, both at home and while we were out and about. And with a little planning, there were always options for socializing.

Also, there was the little task of potty training my boys, which most preschools require, and which didn’t end up getting accomplished for either of my sons until well past 3 years old. (Can I just say that potty training ranks up there with one of the most traumatizing parenting experiences ever?)

But both of my boys were about 3 1/2, I realized that they were ready for some variety and structure, and both of them were enamored with the idea of school. “I want to go to school!” they would chant every day. Either that or they wanted me to schedule daily playdates, which wasn’t exactly my favorite thing to do in the world.

So, I found low-cost preschool programs for them to attend a few hours each week and signed them up.

Now, children can act like they want to do something — they can beg and beg to kingdom come — but you never know how things will pan out when it actually happens. It’s definitely like that with preschool sometimes. You excitedly sign your kid up. You fall in love with the little tiny tables and chairs and brightly colored blocks. You’re certain your child will love the teacher, who seems exactly like your beloved grandma.

But when it comes time to drop them off that first day, you have the tightest knot in your stomach. And you can’t imagine letting your baby go into the preschool classroom, which suddenly looks big and scary as hell.

My first son seemed to ease in pretty well to preschool. From the first day, he was chatting up a storm with his teachers, making friends, and literally shooing me out of the room after I dropped him off.

My second son, my baby, had a tougher time. He eventually warmed up to the idea, but he needed me to stay in the room for a long while before he was ready to separate. And even after that, he needed to make sure I was still in the building at all times. (I was able to fudge the truth about that at a certain point though.)

But the hardest part was that he would not leave the house when I told him it was time to go to preschool. He would say, “Oh, we’ll go next time.” If I pushed him further, he would cry and tell me, “I hate school! Don’t make me go!” And then he would lie there limp as a noodle until it was well past time to leave.

I tried to be patient. I listened. I didn’t chide him for his feelings. But even though I was reluctant in the first place to sign him up for school, once I did, I’d be damned if he didn’t at least try. So I would eventually get him to go. (Yes, bribery with lollipops was involved.) And after a few weeks, the protests ended, as did his needing Mommy to stay nearby at all times.

Now, on the scale of tough transitions, I know this isn’t the worst. But whenever you have a child who doesn’t want to do something you want them to do, you start having doubts. You start questioning your choices as a parent. And you start worrying that something is terribly wrong with your child — or yourself.

I did just that with my son. I wondered if I ought to just pull him from the program and try again next year. Then I thought that pushing him through would be good for him and for me — that we both needed to learn to let go. Then I questioned myself even more, wondering if I was placing unfair expectations on my son, and if I was just comparing him to his brother who was more ready at that age.

Listen, parenthood is just hard. You never know if you are making the right choice for your child. And yes, in certain situations, preschool is just not right for a child. Maybe they’re too young. Maybe it’s too many hours. Maybe it’s just a sucky program or not the right fit for your child.

You definitely need to trust your instincts on something like this. I truly think parents are the ones who know what’s best for their children, and no one outside of the situation has the right to judge your choices.

But I also think that if you’re pretty sure your kid is ready for preschool and it’s something you want to do, it makes sense to kind of just push through. Gently, of course, but just keep trying and showing up, whether you need to be late every day for three weeks, and even if your kid is crying a bit. If staying in the classroom isn’t working, you can usually trust that the preschool teachers will be able to help your child through the sad feelings — and sometimes your kid will actually adjust better if you aren’t waiting nearby.

Most likely, it’s going to be just fine. In a few week or months (yes, sometimes it takes that long), your child will be begging to go to school. And you’ll be savoring the hours alone you didn’t even realize you needed. You’ll become an expert on getting in a jog, shower, a bit of work, and a load of laundry — all in the span of the two or three precious hours that preschool affords you.

And when you and your little tyke are reunited at the end of the day, you will have had a bit of time to reclaim your life, and you’ll have more energy to be present and engaged with your child. On top of that, your kid will have a whole list of adventures to tell you about.

Wendy Wisner

Then there will be more tears, but not your kid’s tears — yours. You’ll be so proud of your child for trying new things, pushing past resistance.

Then you’ll beg him to please stop growing up.

Seriously. Right now. Just stop it.