The Family Project: First-grader reading
Q. My six-year-old daughter entered first grade this year. By the end of the first week of school, my daughter started becoming tearful at home, right in the middle of fun activities. When I ask her what is wrong, she says things like, “Who is going to play games with me when you die?” I had no idea where this is coming from. I reassure her that I’m not going anywhere, and she calms down. But the next day, it happens again. It is really upsetting me that she is so consumed with thoughts of me or her father leaving her. What might be going on?
The panel said that sometimes first graders react to things that teachers read to them in the classroom. Former first-grade teacher and panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo said, “When students go to the reading table, and a story is read, they begin to talk about their own experiences. They tell teachers everything without being asked, including what is happening at home. Sometimes they begin to cry because they don’t want what they read about to happen in their home.”
Panelist Mike Daniels said that six-year-olds are in a stage of magical thinking. “When they are given limited information, they are going to make it up. They create their own endings. Whatever the daughter has heard has translated into mommy and daddy dying.”
Daniels said that it is important for the parents to recognize their daughter’s fear and validate it. The parents also need to appreciate the fact that she is talking about it. “The parents can help lessen her fear by being physically present and holding on to her, while assuring her that they are there and will be as long as she needs them.”
Panelist Erin Stalsitz suggested that the parents reach out to the teacher, explaining what is happening with their daughter, and asking if the teacher has observed anything or might be aware of anything that might be causing their first grader’s fear. They could also ask if the teacher has observed similar behavior on the part of the daughter in the classroom. “Email is a good way to do this. If they don’t already, the parents should have the teacher’s contact information.” Panelist Pam Wallace said that the six-year-old has been learning by repetition, so it’s not a concern that the fear might linger or reoccur. “If the expressions of fear continue habitually for an extended period of time, however, the parents should reach out to the school guidance counselor.”
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Erin Stalsitz, casework supervisor, Lehigh County Children and Youth; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS, and Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, educator and former school administrator.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child. The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.