I want my mommy!

On the first day of school, we read Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, a story about three baby owls who wake up one night to find their mother gone. Two of the three imagine reasons she might be missing, while the youngest just repeats, “I want my mommy!” In the end, the owl mother returns home and assures her babies that she always comes back.

It’s a simple story of separation and reunification. Instead of being able to imagine the possibilities of what mom could be doing, as the two older owls do, the youngest owl is only able to articulate the emotion of wanting mom nearby. We tend to see this with children at school, too.

What might be common knowledge to adults is not so apparent to a three-year-old. For example, adults can reasonably understand a statement like, “I’ll see you after work.” Conversely, if you tell your child there are three more minutes before the movie starts, they might ask you five times in the course of those three minutes when the movie will begin. They are constructing their understanding of the abstract concept of time.

So, imagine how the emotional experience of a three-year-old differs when they are unable to use the same strategies that adults use to self-soothe. They are in the process of constructing their understanding of the cycle, patterns, and rhythms of the school day. They are learning that each day they will be reunified with their family at home. So we might find a child teary-eyed as they get ready to transition between activities. In those moments, we support children by saying things like, “You look a little sad. I’m wondering what’s making you feel sad.” Sometimes even that is too broad and the child might not be able to respond. If so, we might ask, “Are you missing your family?” This is often met with an emphatic nod and sometimes more tears. Then we start to find ways to help the child feel connected to home and comforted. This might include drawing a picture for a family member, writing a note with a teacher, or looking at our “All About Me” book, which contains family photos.

We read Owl Babies early on so it can be used as a tool to support kids when they are longing for home. We also want to provide a model of the language a child can use if they are missing family. Young children are in the process of developing their emotional language. It is not uncommon for a young child to experience an emotion and not be quite sure what it is, and we think a huge part of our role is to help children apply language to their emotional landscape.

One day in the second week, I was reading the book during playtime on the couch with a group of children. As we read, the kids I was sitting with were reciting, “I want my Mommy” at the appropriate time. Soon, it was as if we had surround sound. Kids playing with playdough and at the water table were saying it along with us. It was at this point we knew that the book was really striking a chord!

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