Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Fickleness, Separation Anxiety, and the High Emotions of Four-Year-Olds

We are having quite the time with Lilah lately. Sweet, giggly, good-natured Lilah - the one of the bunch that's always been the most easy-going and the least trouble. Suddenly over the last couple of months she's tapped into this inner reserve of emotions, and it's been very trying, to say the least.

In addition to becoming far more uncooperative in general than she's ever been before, and crying big fat tears that ooze down her chubby little cheeks when she feels slighted or when Mommy or Daddy get mad at her for something (like being uncooperative), these new found emotions seem to be manifesting mainly in her not wanting to go to preschool, and not wanting to go to dance class.

Although I worried about how Lilah would do on the first day or two of preschool, having never spent any sort of extended time away from her parents or siblings, I really thought she'd quickly take to school. I've always known her to be a gregarious, fun-loving little girl, and I thought she'd quickly make new friends and look forward to each day's new activities and adventures. That hasn't been the case. I was actually surprised at how smoothly things went in the beginning - she separated from us and willingly went into the classroom in the first few days of school without any drama or tears. It's sort of gone downhill from there, though.

It started in the first couple of weeks where she started telling her teacher that she missed her mommy and her Finn. I thought this was very sweet. We came up with the idea of giving her a snapshot of me and Finn for her to take to school with her that she could look at whenever she got to missing us, and for a while that was enough. But it's gradually dissolved into her crying before school and wailing that she doesn't want to go, she just wants to stay home. I've talked to her teacher about it (in fact, her teacher actually approached me recently and told me that Lilah often seems "down" at school), and her teacher thinks it might have something to do with Lilah being dumped for the first time in her life. She had her first ever best friend, but alas, it was short lived, as the other girl, in the teacher's words, seems to have "moved on." I can see that this has hurt Lilah, but I don't think it's the crux of it. She's made some other friends, so she does realize there are other fish in the sea.

I think she just wants to be home with me and Finn.

As Michael has pointed out, at home she's had four years of being The Baby Girl, and I won't deny that she's been coddled to a degree. Not spoiled, but certainly adored - it's hard not to adore that girl with her long golden tresses, her sidelong glances, her sweet giggle, and her prancing around like a little pony when she's happy. She's kind of everyone's pet here at home, and she's probably gotten used to that attention and admiration at home, and I'm guessing that maybe it's a bit of a rude awakening for her to realize that the world outside of our house doesn't necessarily have her on the same pedestal.

Then there's dance class. We signed her up for dance when she was three. She wanted to do it because both of her sisters were doing it - and really, they're a threesome. She was very happy and willing until recently. She happily went to class every week and participated, she took part in the big spring recital the school did, and it was great. After the recital, I gave all three girls the opportunity to stop taking dance if they wanted, or to take a break. No, they all wanted to continue. So I re-enrolled them. They all said they wanted to be in the winter recital coming up, after I made it clear to them that they didn't have to if they didn't want to, but if they wanted to, they couldn't change their minds. Lilah insisted she wanted to be in the winter show, so I paid the fees, bought the costumes, and now it's all changed. Now she doesn't want to be in the show. Now she cries and wails every week when it's time to get ready to go to dance class.

It all seems to boil down to some sort of separation anxiety. Just like with her resistance to going to preschool, I suspect that her new resistance to going to dance class (and for the record, once she gets there, she's fine) has to do with her just wanting to be at home where everyone loves her and everything is comfortable and familiar.

And I'm torn. What do I do? Obviously preschool is non-negotiable. She's four - she needs to be in preschool. And despite her not wanting to go, she is getting something out of it. But what about dance? Do I make her keep going for the next few weeks until the winter show is over because she insisted she wanted to be a part of that? Is it ridiculous or unfair to expect a four-year-old to fulfill a commitment they made? Is this a teachable moment, an opportunity to instill the principle of following through in her? Or would it be easier for everyone and more reasonable to just write off all the money we invested in all the classes before the show, the show itself, and her costume, because suddenly she no longer wants to do it?

I don't know, I don't know.


Miriam's mommy said...

As mom to a 4 year old who never wants to leave the house, I'd go by what she does when she gets to dance, not what she says/does on her way there. At least my 4 year old likes what she's doing right. now. and can't think about whether she'll like something else better. But if she's not enjoying it once she gets there, I'd let her stop, regardless of the money. 4 is too young, I think, to be able to think about the future that strategically, and if you ever want her to pick it up again, you want her to have positive memories.

Kandis said...

This sounds EXACTLY like Daisy last a "T". And I think you're exactly right on the reasons she's doing it. I personally decided to keep Daisy in dance class because I really felt it was just a phase and she needed to keep the commitment that she begged me for (and all the $ I spent!) I didn't want to start a precedent of letting her not go cause she cried. If I really thought she was miserable while she was there (she stopped crying the instant I left and the teacher said she was fine) I would have pulled her, but in the end she was so happy she did the recital and of course begged me to do dance again, but we're taking a break from dance this year to try tumbling which is going really well.

molette said...

My Hanna was just like this at 4! It broke my heart every time I had to take her to school and/or dance! My mom bought her a locket with our pictures in it and she wore it to school and it helped some but she would still beg not to go. Eventually she got over it but by that time school was about out for the summer. As far as dance went, I made her stick it out. Only because I felt it was good for her to be away from mommy a little and because I thought it was a teachable moment. I told her when we commit to something we must follow through and finish. Sometime I wonder if I did the right thing? She is now 6 and still has some anxiety over things but she is doing much better.

Ok so looking back over my long winded post I realized I offer no advice! Go with your gut, you know her best and you know what she can handle. Good luck and let us know how things go.

Kirsten Edwards said...

I enjoy reading your posts because they are so real. When my 6 year old was 4 she was just like this. Its a relief to hear that other little girls can be like this. We even had her in dance and she didn't want to go. Basically we made her go and said that she would get use to it. We said that at home, she's the big fish in the small pond, but there she's the small fish in the larger pond, but she will grow to be big again. She actually understood us and that helped. It took our 4 year old about a year to work through these separation issues. She's now 6, catches the bus, enjoys dance and loves school. Hang in there.

Gina said...

I have to say - this is so funny to me. This is exactly like my four year old. She has been in pre-school since last year and every day she would (and does) beg me not to send her. I second-guessed myself alot. But pre-school is cheaper than daycare! Now when we pick her up, she doesn't want to come home either! And dance class, she does the same exact thing. I found that the few times my husband dropped her off, she just waved and went right in. I am glad to see these other experiences. My Lily is a shy kid, so that's a factor. Also, she's just little Miss Contrary.

diane rene said...

I don't think that 4 is too young to enforce the commitment issue ... but then again, I am the mean mom that forces that commitment, and always has, on my own children. Even Falyse understands at the age of 7, that when she asks to do something new, she will be required to stick it out for a specific amount of time.

As far as the anxiety ... I think some of it comes with being an in-between sibling. Roxie was my anxious child when it came to preschool. she loved being at home with me and Falyse and having extra responsibilities. At school, she was just like everyone else. She also got to a point where she actually voiced her concern that something would happen to me and I wouldn't be able to come pick her up.

It was difficult, and trying, but we got through it ... now she is coming up on 11 and thinks she doesn't need me at all - see how well that worked? ;0)