Have you noticed your child’s smile disappearing and demeanor changing on Sundays from a happy, fun-loving child to a somber, withdrawn version of herself?
I did. I’m going to share our story and give you 3 steps to take if you see these changes in your own child.
My oldest daughter was in first grade for six weeks when I observed changes in her emotional behavior. After completing preschool and kindergarten at a Montessori school we loved, we enrolled in our local public school. Our particular Montessori school only went through kindergarten, leaving us no choice but to attend a new school for first grade.
Initially, I thought my daughter was adjusting well to the new group of students and her first new teacher in years.
Then, a series of events occurred changing everything.
Six weeks after school started, I was making dinner on a Tuesday evening when I received a phone call. It was the principal of our new school telling me that my daughter would be getting a new teacher in the morning.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Mrs. Smith* is no longer with the district. I can’t give you additional information at this time, but her leaving is nothing you need to be concerned about. No harm was done to any student, but she will no longer be teaching here.”
“Mrs. Anderson* will be the new teacher. She has much experience. She’s never had her own full-time classroom before, but I know she’ll be great.”
I was a bit shell-shocked and couldn’t think of a single thing to ask in the moment.
And with that the principal ended the conversation to call the next parent on the first grade roster. The lovely woman who’d been the “new teacher” and the face of the new school for my six-year-old was now gone. Poof. Just like that. With one phone call from the principal and ZERO explanation I now had to prepare my daughter for yet another new teacher in the morning. Anyone with a child who thrives on routine and structure knows this is no small task.
What happened over the next six weeks changed me as a parent and turned me into a fierce advocate.
My daughter seemed to like Mrs. Anderson, her new new teacher. She told me she was nice. But, little by little, I learned of things happening at school that raised red flags. She said it was too hard to focus in class because it was loud from all the talking. (Along with routine and structure my child has an affinity for quiet. Ever see a kid covering their ears because of loud noises? That’s my child, too.) She mentioned that the little boy sitting next to her was calling her names and teasing her. I noticed things at home that were concerning as well. She cried more easily and more often. She created, “Lulu,” a make-believe friend. If I didn’t acknowledge Lulu’s presence or her being “real,” my daughter would get angry. Her behavior was out of line from what had been her normal way of being.
I needed to see for myself what was going on at the school.
When I visited the classroom and spoke with Mrs. Anderson she told me how much she enjoyed having my child in class.
When I told her my concerns over the little boy calling my daughter names, she told me she’d addressed it because my daughter had cried during class. She assured me she’d taken care of it.
As the expert of her classroom, I took her word for it.
Yet, as the weeks passed on, Sundays were increasingly spent soothing and comforting my kid rather than enjoying the day.
Since I’m the expert of my child, I asked to meet with the principal. She suggested the transition from Montessori school to public school could present challenges to any student. She’d check in with my daughter and get back to me.
“Aren’t you a yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do? You should be more confident.“
When those words, directed at my daughter, came out of Mrs. Anderson’s mouth, they sent me alternating between disbelief and rage. Yes, one of the reasons we signed her up for Tae Kwon Do was for building self-confidence. But just like going to the gym for 16 weeks doesn’t automatically make you size zero and perfectly fit, having a yellow belt after 16 weeks of Tae Kwon Do doesn’t make you confident, especially in an environment where you don’t feel safe.
The principal never did get back to me except for a brief exchange in the hallway the day I turned in our transfer papers. She caught sight of me and said, “Your daughter looks like she’s happy! Things are better.” Yes, things were better and indeed she looked happy! She knew she was leaving that environment.
3 Things to Do When Your Child’s Smile Disappears on Sundays:
- Observe-Were they once eager to go to school and now don’t want to go? Monitor their body language, eating habits and sleep schedule. Watch for what a friend of mine calls, “the Sunday night dreads,” where a major emotional shift occurs because school is the next day. Is this behavior persistent?
- Listen-Do they bring up a specific name over and over? Is there sadness, fear or rejection in the sound of their voice when they talk about school? Do they say things about themselves they’ve never said before? Such as, “Jimmy* says I’m a cry-baby.”
- Act– REACH OUT immediately. First to your child; let them know you’re concerned and that you’re there for them. Secondly, to the school. If you’re like me, and hesitant to say anything because of long-held beliefs of not wanting to be “that parent,” I assure you, the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of your child is FAR more important than what anyone at the school thinks of you.
My hope is you have a school with an anti-bullying policy in place, so that this is a non-issue for your family. But I know from our experience, there are schools who say they take bullying seriously, yet don’t implement consequences for bullying behavior. In which case, your job is to ADVOCATE for your child to the best of your ability. We homeschooled for the rest of first grade and found another school the following year.
I found myself wanting to do something more to help with the bullying crisis in our schools. I committed to writing music that reinforces the Golden Rule and empowers children to believe they are worthy of being treated with respect and kindness. My song, “Do Unto Others,” is an anthem to help children remember the importance of treating others the way they’d like to be treated. I believe it will be a resource for parents and teachers alike. Let’s share the message that bullying is NEVER acceptable.
*All names have been changed for this article.
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