Mixed Emotions

“I’m happy and sad. I’m happy because I have more time to be with my family and I’m sad because I love school and I’m going to miss it.”

These are the words of a preK student yesterday as his classmates reflected on their feelings.  He captured so poignantly the mixed emotions with which we approach the last day of the school year. In this lucid moment, the 5yr old child showed the remarkable ability to hold two oft-conflicting emotions at the same time.

This is not an easy task!

How are you feeling on this last day of school? Could it be described as any single emotion?  Are there elements of pride and joy as see your baby grow up and complete a year of school, and for some of you move on to a bigger school? Are there elements of nostalgia and longing as you reminisce about your baby clinging to your leg who now runs ahead without even a glance back?

Our children need us to respect and model this interesting case of mixed emotions. They need us to show them how to hold different feelings at the same time; they need us to say it is OK to be having all of these feelings.  Our children are experts at having mixed emotions but not at expressing them; they need us to validate this emotional cocktail. Dr. Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, writes in her recent book How Toddlers Thrive that young children are “caught between two battling needs: the desire for self and independence versus the need for comfort, security, and the familiar.” The surge of independence our children feel this time of year does not diminish their profound need for the safety found in the lap of a teacher or parent.  They may be ready for Kindergarten but they are not ready to say goodbye.

This conflict was on clear display in classroom 1 yesterday.  As the end-of-the-year slideshow finished and children, teachers and parents sang “later alligator” for the final time together, a 3yr old girl shouted out, “Now I can go to camp!” Her irrepressible desire to move on and grow was in stark contrast to her classmate who gazed up at his mother and pleaded, “Pick me up!” His mother, surprised at the request after months of the child walking himself out of the classroom, responded, “Pick you up?! On your last day of school?!” They are ready to move on, yet they need us close by.

Our children need to know that both emotions are OK. Dr. Klein explains, “After they feel secure that you are there for them, it is this feeling of safety and trust that motivates them to let go and successfully move away from you.” In other words, they cannot grow independent unless they know you are there for them. They cannot move on to kindergarten unless they know their nursery teachers will always love them.

So this, then, is our message to our children and our parents: we are here for you.  We will be here long after the year ends; we will be here waiting for you to visit in the Fall and for years to come.  Your child’s name will be written on the staircase; this will always be your home.  We can’t wait to see your children grow big and strong, though they and you will always have a joyful, cuddly place in the nursery school.

Shabbat shalom and have a great summer,