Crossing bridges

By Kim Lee
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On Monday, my three daughters started classes at their new school. Due to the schedule differences between international school and Chinese school holidays, they had spent seven weeks at home learning with me. The older two girls went off to meet their new teachers with a quick wave goodbye, and smiles. But my youngest daughter was a different story. At the door of the kindergarten,Lydiasuddenly froze and her eyes filled with tears. She didn't want to go in. As a teacher, I know this is a common situation, but it was the first time I had ever faced it as a mother. I never expected the clash between my teacher's mind and my mother's heart to be so painful.

Kim Lee

As I watched my usually confident and smiling child inching away from the door in tears, I realized that I was stuck on the"bridge"spanning the gap that exists between knowledge and its application in the real world. On one side was my academic knowledge of early childhood development theory and handling separation anxiety, on the other side was my crying 5-year-old and a mother's natural instinct to scoop her up, carry her away and soothe her tears. As one of the teachers came out to greetLydia, her quiet tears turned into full-blown sobs. My heart sank. I knew what to do, I even teach other parents and teachers what to do when faced with this situation. Why was I finding it so hard to "cross the bridge”?

One thing stopping me was "mother's guilt."Society bombards us with the message that children should always be happy, and good parents have happy children! So, when our child cries we interpret that to mean we are bad parents or have done something wrong. This is why we so often rush to stop children from crying. We forget that crying is not a reflection of our poor parenting skills, it is simply a reflection of our child's feelings. When young children feel angry, upset or afraid, crying is a very natural response. Effective early childhood educators (and I include both family members and teachers in this "educator"category because family members are a child's first teachers) know that it is more important to address a child's feelings than it is to stop her crying.

Trying to keep this in mind, I crouched down toLydia's level and said, "I see that you're crying, let's move over there and we can talk about it."Still sniffling, we shuffled to a slightly more private area. Crying children always draw curiosity, but the attention of onlookers, even well-meaning ones, makes it even more difficult for an already upset child to gain composure and express herself. Whenever possible, try to find a private area to communicate with your child. If this isn't possible, totally tune out onlookers and just focus on your dialogue with your child.

A safe distance from the door, but still crouched down to her eye level, I asked, "Can you tell me why you are crying or why you don't want to go in?"My chatterbox suddenly had a case of lockjaw. She shook her head. I went on, "OK, I understand. I will give you a minute."At this point "wait time"is a very important concept. These quiet seconds or minutes are a crucial chance for your child to start making the transition from crying to words as a way to express feelings. The word "minute"had barely left my mouth when she blurted out quietly, "I'm scared”.

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