My five-year-old cries all day at school.

I have a five-year-old daughter who started kindergarten this year and cries constantly at school. She went to Pre-K last year and never had a problem but that was only three hours a day and now she is in school from 8:00-3:00. Now she not only wails at drop-off, she also cries all the time while she is there so every time I pick her up, her face is red and her eyes are all puffy from all the crying. I have tried everything, talked to the teachers, the AP and also the guidance counselor and it looks like we are at the end of our rope. At home we tried every way to talk to her, tried to find out the reason for crying but we got nothing except “I miss you mommy and I can’t help the crying”. She is a very sensitive and bright child and the teachers are aware of that, I honestly don’t believe that they are the reason for her crying since she never complains about them. She likes the children in her class , and speaks fondly of them but she can’t get past the fact that she is not “with mommy” and can’t control her emotions. We are in the fifth month of school now and I would really like to know how to help her feel more comfortable there. As I said, she is a bright kid and is quite advanced in reading and math for her age but I don’t want her to think that it is OK not to do work in the classroom and not to follow rules just because she is sad and wants to be home with mommy. We also considered taking her out of school this year and hope for an improvement before it’s time for first grade, but the school staff does not see that as a solution, from their experience this is very likely to continue in the first grade. I thank you in advance for any advice you can give us.

It seems that your daughter has separation anxiety.  She seems to be quite sophisticated intellectually and has very good social and academic skills.

Your approach is very sound. I would suggest you add one important dimension, namely a strong incentive for her to control her emotions:

  1. Organize a “Smiling and Working at School” chart. Talk to her teacher about giving you a daily report about any smiles, even tiny smiles, and her good work at school.
  2. The secret is to have her win attention and rewards at home and at school for her smiles and work. Make it really easy at first and gradually make it a bit tougher.
  3. Help your daughter to learn how to smile at school. Each day, talk to her about the good things that occur at school.
  4. Discuss what she can say to herself when she feels sad at school. Instead of saying “I miss Mommy,” she can say “Mommy loves me and knows I can do well.”
  5. Give her a special thing from you for her to comfort herself at school. It might be a small picture of you or some small piece of costume jewelry. Tell her to touch it when she is missing you and remember you are with her in spirit.
  6. Tell her you know how talented and able she is and you expect her to be calm and work hard at school even if she feels sad.
  7. Don’t ask her why she is crying. She has already told you. She needs attention for working at changing it.

If these strategies don’t work, you might consider seeing if you can transfer her to a smaller school that can be more attentive to her positive coping. It may be that the pattern that she has established at her school will make it very difficult for her to change.

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