“I tried to play with some girls at lunch and one of them elbowed me away so then I played by myself,” my five year-old daughter told me after her first day at Kindy. For most people this statement wouldn’t be the end of the world. Navigating the world of playground etiquette can be tricky and finding your own space within that microcosm takes time – I know this. Logical me is aware of this. But the reality was that when my daughter told me that she played on her own I felt a swirling tug of anxiety in the pit of my stomach that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
You see, I never really enjoyed school. It didn’t help that my family moved around a lot so it felt like I was always uprooting and moving to a new school, with its own rules and established groups that I had to break into. This also meant that I spent a lot of time as a child playing by myself. I can tell you, most children don’t really enjoy playing by themselves - especially when they see their peers running around and having fun. A lonely child is not usually a happy child.
Despite this when my daughter was on the cusp of starting school I remained pretty calm. My daughter had been going to a lovely pre-school for the last two years and had an incredibly happy time there. She made some very close friends and was generally regarded as a vivacious and popular girl. I knew she wouldn’t have trouble making friends at school.
On the other hand, all around me my own friends were losing their heads about their children starting school. Many were debating whether to go private or public; one had settled on private because she went to a public school and hated it; another was the opposite – she went to a private school as a child and believed the public system was best for her own children. Another one of my friends dithered so much about which school to send her child that she was close to having a nervous breakdown days before her son was due to start school – she wasn’t sure even by then if she had made the right choice.
Throughout I remained calm. I had decided on my local public school and from all accounts the school was a good one. And yet only two days in to her schooling – both of which my daughter hung around by herself at lunch and recess - I was close to losing my mind. I found myself at midnight Googling the local private schools. A quick look at the fees schedule, however, put an end to that fantasy.
It was at this point that I stopped and gave myself another reality check – my daughter had only been in school for two days and here I was already looking at changing schools. I needed to give her a chance to figure things out, to find her own feet before I went and made any rash decisions. I also wondered, if what I was feeling was motivated by my daughter’s school experience or my own? I figured it was the latter.
Rule one of Parenting 101 should be – don’t pass your own hang-ups on to your children. In other words, don’t let your past experiences mar that of your children who are going to form experiences of their own, and learn their own lessons. I was so caught up in the fear that my daughter would repeat the experience I had at school that I had forgotten that of course she could have an experience very different to mine. I also reminded myself that the start of school can often be a bumpy one, but like every new beginning it takes time to settle into the groove.
I did go and speak to my daughter’s teacher, who said she had a no-tolerance policy in regards to children excluding others and she said she would keep an extra eye out for my daughter and make sure she didn’t feel left out. So this is where we are so far. Still very much at the beginning of a journey that’s turning out to be a learning experience not only for my daughter – but for me as well. A journey in which I have to be cautious of not letting my own anxieties become ones that my daughter subconsciously makes her own.