Managing Transitions Part II


Here is the second illustration of a child and caregiver, again the mother, having difficulty negotiating a transition. Again, I welcome comments from different types of child caregivers.

b. Transition to School:
Daniela is a 9-year old girl who refuses to go to school. It is now October, and she has missed 10 full days of school and come in late or left early at least another dozen times. This is very hard on her single mother, whose boss has told her she cannot miss more time from work. The last few times, her mother has left her at home, watching t.v.

Daniela lives with her mother, who emigrated from Central America 10 years ago, in a studio apartment in city housing. She has never met her biological father, also from CA, but she calls her mother’s former boyfriend “Daddy”. Her mother told him to move out last year after a particularly violent fight. Her Daddy comes to see Daniela episodically and takes her to play at his mother’s apartment, where there are other children that the grandmother takes care of. Daniela enjoys these visits but sometimes is intimidated by the other children, especially an older boy.


Daniela is a quiet girl who has attends fourth grade at a public school in her city. Spanish is the only language spoken in her home, but her mother chose to have her enter an English only school so that she would learn English, and she quickly became fluent. Her mother’s English is minimal, and outside the home, Daniela often translates for her. Daniela seemed to do well in the first three years of school. She enjoyed going to school, and her progress reports described her as a bright, friendly girl with an aptitude for language and who was at least an average student in math. She had a few girl friends and was very attached to her teachers. Her kindergarten teachers and the teachers who taught her combined first and second grade classroom had the reputation of being the best teachers in the school. One teacher in each classroom spoke Spanish and a good relationship with Daniela’s mother.


However since last year, she speaks barely a word at school. Her mother blames the school for Daniela’s school refusal, because last year there were some bullies in her class. One boy in particular picked on her, making fun of her clothes and even making vulgar sexual remarks. The boy is not in her class this year, but she sees him on the playground at recess. Her mother wanted the school to expel the boy, but she was told that they could not do that. Also, for the past two years, Daniela’s teachers have not been as sympathetic to her or to her mother as her mother considers appropriate. They have told her mother that Daniela needs to make a bigger effort to participate in school, that other girls have tried to engage her, sit next to her at lunch, but Daniela does not respond.


Daniela began to fall behind in her schoolwork last year for the first time. She would tell her mother that she had no homework or had already done her homework, but later her teacher would send home notes telling her mother that Daniela’s assignments were missing or incomplete. This would make her mother frantic, and she would scream at Daniela to show her homework, but Daniela would only shut down.

Read this blog in Spanish.


2 thoughts on “Managing Transitions Part II

  1. Susan Phillips

    So many factors making the bridge between the world of school and the world of home a hard one to navigate for Daniela and her mother – changes and loss in the school world in the form of prior nurturing teachers, connected to both D. and her mother; the traumatic experience with a peer, perhaps paralleling the sense of fear and feeling of lost safety with respect to D’s Daddy; the “loss” of school as an emotional “safe haven” now replaced with expectations that feel overwhelming from teachers who must seem critical, and peers with whom D. does not feel safe, nor connected, even when they may be well-meaning in efforts to include her; and all creating heightened mistrust of the school environment for D’s mother which can’t help but affect D’s feelings, as well.

    At the same time, D’s mother is clearly invested in D’s well-being, protective, and wishing for her success in school; Daniela is bright, bi-lingual and had made a very smooth adjustment to school in the early grades, has previously made strong attachments to her teachers, early peer friendships; and her mother, too has felt connected through teachers to the world of school.

    So, there would be much to harness with the help of a therapist (ideally a bi-lingual one) in bringing together Daniela, her mother, and teachers in first creating a shared understanding of where the previously well-supporting bridge between school and home has broken down from both sides. and figuring out together how and what would be needed to create some new and resurrect some old “bridge supports”.

  2. Alex

    Great comments! I agree with all of them. Another issue is that of the mother’s ambitions for Daniela being fueled by her own sense of defectiveness related to her disadvantaged life in her country of origin and her failure to achieve the reparative dreams she had for her life in the US. I wish the teachers could find out about the mother’s immigration story. I always urge my trainees at the Cambridge Health Alliance (a hospital clinic so rich in multi-cultural experiences) to ask about how the parents came to this country, what they were leaving behind – for good and for ill!

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