“She’s doing a lot better – she’s starting to eat a little and doesn’t cry when somebody goes near her anymore”, the carers say. It’s a long way looking back 5 months ago when my 4 year old daughter just started daycare. The first 3 months there were probably the most stressful time in her life with all of the adjustments from moving to Australia. But now, little by little, she’s thriving – all thanks to none other but herself.
Deciding to relocate was quick. My husband got the offer and within 3 months, we would be starting a new life away from our homeland. Sure, both of us were used to staying at different countries for more than a month but never actually thought of living in a new one indefinitely with the whole family. Those 3 months were all about planning, dreaming, packing, selling along with anticipation, hope and anxiety; then, hugs, tears, laughter and goodbyes. We were leaving the life we’ve built and off to create a new home.
I was scared for our daughter. She has left family behind: the 7 year old neighbour who she plays with almost everyday, her cousins who let her play their video games, her grandparents who adore her and showers her with love, and her nanny she’s known all of her life. We stopped her ballet classes and pulled her out from kindergarten which she had just started less than a month before. We were pulling her out of everything and everyone. I didn’t know how she’s going to take it.
The first 2 months here was a blissful blur. We were all on a high from being in a new country. New sights, sounds and taste. We had a lot to do, from feeling like a tourist and exploring places, to finding and settling into a new home. We went to a lot of parks and playgrounds. We fell in love with the place. Our daughter was having the time of her life. When asked if she wants to go back, she would answer “just to visit”. She wants to stay here in Australia. I was happy and relieved as I didn’t expect her to get accustomed to the new life so quickly.
Things changed when we started her at daycare. She was used to a different environment. Before moving, when her parents were at work, she was cared for by her nanny with no other kids around except for the 7 year old neighbour. At school, it was all about learning – teacher in front and students in their lined up chairs raising their hands if they want to say something. It’s fairly quiet except for food breaks. But here now, kids were running around screaming and it was a lot to take in for her.
Culture shock for a four year old, now that was fun.
We started her Monday and by the first Wednesday, somebody called me just after lunch because she wouldn’t stop crying. They told me that the only time she calmed down a bit was when they asked her if she wanted Mummy to pick her up already and she said “yes”. When she saw me, she melted in my arms so fast like a snowman heated with a blowtorch. I didn’t know how to respond because it was the first time I’ve seen her like that. The next few months were filled with crying, screaming and clinging-for-dear-life moments every drop-off. I would stay for more than 30 minutes because she just wouldn’t stop wailing. I told the carers what I think would make her more comfortable there, interfering with how they connect with my kid. I even got her one of those kids’ GPS watches that tracks where they are, hear and see what they’re doing, and lets them call you for emergencies. I hoped it would help but it just made things worse; she would call me nonstop which made her distance herself more to the people around her. I also got obsessed with calling her secretly to hear things, only to realise that she’s crying and there’s nothing I could do about it. It did more harm than good. Mornings became a gruelling time for us.
I should’ve anticipated it, really. She has an introverted temperament like her Mum, after all. When she was a little girl, I brought her to my office and instantly cried when one of my colleagues looked at her. No touching or talking, just looked. New faces making a lot of noise bothered her. I would tell everyone not to talk or even look at her because it makes her very upset. After a few visits though, she got used to being at the office and just roamed around every corner, dancing to the music my boss played for her. Thinking about it, it was because I didn’t stop bringing her to the office even though she cried a lot for the first few times I brought her. I realised it wasn’t because I told everyone else how to deal with her but because I let her deal with everyone herself. I trusted her that eventually, she’ll get through her anxiety, as long as she knows I’m there to support her.
“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~Christopher Robin
I applied that for her daycare dilemma. In the mornings, before going to daycare, we started to talk about what she thought she’d do that day. We would psych ourselves up that it was going to be a good day. She would cry sometimes before going out of the house so we would sit in the couch for a few extra minutes to calm her down, telling her it’s normal to feel sad and overwhelmed but eventually, it will all be alright like when she used to visit my office. No more holding her for 30 minutes, I suggested I needed to leave immediately during drop-offs even if she’s crying so the carers there can take care of her. I told her that she’s brave and strong because even though she’s crying and that she feels scared and lonely, she still goes to daycare and she’s getting better at it day by day. At night, we would recall what she felt during the day and talk about it – showing her my excitement when she tells me something good that has happened and helping her deal with what made her sad or lonely. I kept reminding her to take the challenges head on, and those make her better. She doesn’t open up everyday, or maybe there is really not much to tell, but sometimes we would actually have a long and hearty conversation. I feel those moments made her have more faith in herself and cultivated a stronger bond between us, too.
By the 4th month, the carers were telling me that they see a big improvement with her behaviour. She began talking to them and telling them if she needs something. I experienced it at drop-offs, too. Now, after a kiss and a hug, I can freely go, no tears! Sure, there are still times that she cries but it’s lesser than before. Even though she doesn’t have a constant playmate yet, she doesn’t get upset when they’re near and she even talks to them sometimes. She now says goodbye to her playmates and carers without coaxing! I see her relax and enjoy herself more even if Mummy is not around (I sneak in during pick-ups and would just watch her for a few minutes first, until some of the kids see me and hurry up to tell her they saw her Mummy already). She’s starting to showcase her amazing mind and fabulous dancing skills at daycare. She’s beginning to thrive; Daddy Cheesenose and I couldn’t be more ecstatic!
As parents, we need to remember that we are not here to serve and cater to our kids’ every need, rather, to give them the tools that can help them navigate through life by themselves. For a control-freak like me, it took a lot of willpower to leave her be, but I am glad that I did. Her daycare life has improved a lot and I know it was because I let her deal with it on her own and resisted the urge to intervene when she’s stressed. It’s still a long way for her and me, but with faith and love for each other, I know we got this.