My daughter, Ariana, recently started PK3. I assumed the amount of time to myself would be a game changer (6 hours a day, 5 days a week, hooray for universal PK)!
As I dropped off my smiling girl on the first day, I started re-imagining my professional life: Time to write, read professionally, think clearly and even drink that extra cup of coffee every now and then.
All of those dreams came to a screeching halt when I picked my daughter up on the first long day. The tears in her eyes and the panic in her face told me everything.
Those of you who read some of my earlier blogs, know that last year my daughter refused to use the bathroom at school. That decision caused both of us tremendous anxiety.
The teachers, last year, reassured me that when she was ready to go to the bathroom she would. All she needed, they said, was time.
Truth be told, I had mixed feelings about this approach. On one hand, I know that letting kids come to something on their own is more engaging than being told what to do. On the other hand, I was worried that my daughter was standing in her own way of being happy. Even more worrisome to me was that her decision was affecting her health. She developed chapped lips, sore fingers (from biting her nails) and had nightmares about staying at school for long days. A part of me wanted her teachers to lead her to this decision quickly so she could see how much happier she could be at school.
But I listened to her teachers and hoped it would work.
9 months went by and my strong willed daughter certainly became more comfortable with the teachers, but never once went to the bathroom.
When the school year came to a close, her lips and nails cleared up, and she seemed less anxious. To top it off, she announced that she would go to the bathroom with teachers at her new school. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Sure, it took awhile I thought but I was convinced that by letting her take the lead, we could finally put this ordeal behind us.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
On the first long day at her new school, she told me that she changed her mind about going to the bathroom with her teachers. My heart dropped and all of the anxiety that we both had the year before came flooding back.
I filled the teachers in on her ‘potty issue’ and what we had tried in the past. Both Ariana and I returned to school on Monday, not sure what to expect. Her two kind, loving but firm teachers took Ariana aside and let her know that in school she had go to the bathroom. If she didn’t, they told her she would be uncomfortable and unhappy.
They didn’t wait for Ariana to make this decision. Although they couldn’t force her to go to the bathroom, their persistence would make it much harder for Ariana to stick to her plan. They made this decision for her because they knew this was the responsible choice and the one that ultimately would help her grow.
The first day Ariana refused and when she did they offered her the choice of bringing in a potty from home, which she did.
When I picked her up the next day, her bright smile and peaceful face told me everything. She had finally gone to the bathroom with the teachers. By no means are we there yet, but for the first time Ariana had a glimpse of how much happier she could be at school.
What does this story teach me?
Don’t let your belief system get in the way of helping a child: This story reminds me that it’s far more complicated than having a philosophy and letting that philosophy guide your decisions. I am the first one to recommend more child led decisions, but in this situation ultimately Ariana needed a teacher to make the decision. Within the decision, Ariana had choices but her teachers were clear about what she had to do and why she had to do it.
As you teach this year, your students and their growth should be at the forefront of your decision making. There will be times when you can let children lead and there will be times when you need to take the lead.
Be willing to try something new: I want to be clear—I don’t think her old school made a mistake by seeing if Ariana would decide to do it herself The mistake would have been to continue along the same path after we could see it was not working.
At the start of this year remember to be aware of when something is working and/or not working and be willing to try something new until you find something that works for each and every student.
Until next time,