Q: My 3½-year-old has recently begun pinching herself hard enough to raise angry welts on her face and the backs of her hands. She’s just started junior kindergarten and I believe she may be feeling stressed.
A: You’re right in thinking that school might be stressful for your daughter. She is both separating from you and making her way in a new environment where there are more demands placed on her than she’s accustomed to, and lots of other kids vying for the teacher’s attention. And your daughter is probably one of the youngest in her class, as she has not yet reached her fourth birthday. She might feel a bit insecure when she compares herself to the other children who may be more advanced cognitively or socially.
Pinching is likely an expression of frustration. Let her know gently that you do not want her to hurt herself. Encourage her to express her frustrations with words instead; help her by putting words to what you imagine she’s experiencing. You might say something like “It’s such a new thing for you to go to school. I think you might be finding it hard.” This will help her to feel understood and begin to open up about her feelings.
Reassure your daughter that in time school will feel easier and she’ll end up enjoying it. Meanwhile, spending more frequent one-on-one time together will help her continue to feel connected to you while she goes through this transition.