I sent my youngest off to kindergarten this fall. I was worried about how the transition would go. It can take him a while to warm up to new things. He ended up loving preschool but I had to attend his entire first year (and part of year two) with him.
So I spent last summer worrying about my son starting kindergarten because I was pretty sure the Juneau School District wouldn’t let me enroll him if he needed me. I spent the summer devising plans and strategies to ease him in. But there was no need for all that worry. He hurried off to school happily on day one and on day two he told me I didn’t even need me to walk him to the bus.
“I’ve got this, mom!”
Of course, I did walk him to the bus and probably will make sure he gets on the bus safely until he is well into junior high or maybe even until he can legally vote because, as you can probably tell, I am a worrier and prone to anxiety.
The reasons I think my son did so well transitioning into kindergarten were his wonderful teachers at Juneau Co-op preschool. I learned a very important lesson of my own while spending a year in preschool.
One teacher in particular helped my son. Mary Sweeney is kind and nurturing and cares about each student. Even more, she likes the kids exactly as they are and she sees the things that worry parents (like taking a long time to warm up to things) as part of the kids’ best strengths. For example, she will reassure parents and kids that being an introvert is an amazing thing to be.
“Being shy is great,” she’ll say with a kind smile. “Shy kids are more careful, they are more thoughtful, they develop stronger and deeper social ties because they approach relationships with care.”
Then she just gives kids a safe nudge or teaches them a skill to help overcome any challenges associated with that characteristic: “But let me show you a couple ways to enter a playgroup.”
Recently, I read an article about people who suffer from anxiety and I began to think that maybe Mary’s advice isn’t just for kids. We can all learn something from attending preschool — even as adults. Maybe all of the things we think are problems about ourselves — those things to fix — are really the keys to our greatest strengths.
The article said people who suffer from anxiety tend to be more moral because they ruminate about things and consider all the consequences about what might happen. Worriers tend to scan their environments vigilantly so they are also quick to pick up on the emotions of others. They can be empathetic.
I am nowhere close to mastering those traits but maybe when my anxiety rears its ugly head — even nebulously in a grocery store aisle — I will see it as a key to developing those very positive traits. Maybe I don’t need to fix my inclination to worry. I just need to learn a few skills to make it a little easier.
We should all start to see those things we worry about in our children and in ourselves as keys to their and our greatest selves. And all we really need is a little nudge and maybe a new skill to overcome the challenges.
As we skip to the snack table, spilling our water and refusing to eat the ‘new’ food item on our plate, maybe all that really matters is that we know we are cared about exactly as we are.
• Karragh Arndt is a member of the Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.