Letting Our Butterflies Go into the World

By Karen Cairone

One of my favorite analogies about young children and adults is this: Young children are like butterflies, and adults are like caterpillars. Butterflies flit all around, exploring here and there, trying this and that, beautifully open to everything. Caterpillars, on the other hand, move surely and steadily from A to B and B to C, not often venturing beyond their comfort zone.

At the end of this month, I am about to release my last little butterfly into the world. After having three daughters in preschool for the past six years, back-to-back, I am about to end my era as “parent of a preschooler" (No tissues needed, yet).

One of the many traditions at my daughters’ preschool is letting the children experience the life cycle of butterflies. Near the end of the school year, the children get to release their butterflies into the air.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

The word metamorphosis perfectly depicts how my children grew from the time they entered preschool as young three-year-olds to their exit into kindergarten. So many social and emotional skills have been learned through the preschool years. In fact, just today I heard a friend say to her nine-year -old (in reference to one of the practices at our preschool), “Find my eyes."  I smiled, knowing this was a daily practice now for Mia at her preschool, when they are saying hello, goodbye, or just talking together.

Some other favorite social and emotional lessons learned in preschool include:

  1. We take turns.
  2. We use gentle hands with each other.
  3. We listen when others are talking.
  4. We clean up after ourselves.
  5. We use kind words.
  6. We help friends in need.
  7. We tell the truth.
  8. It’s okay to be scared or angry or sad.
  9. Treat others how you want to be treated.
  10. If you know how to make a friend and be a friend, you’ll do just fine.

The Devereux Center for Resilient Children offers a parent guide entitled For Now and Forever: A Guide for Families on Promoting Social and Emotional Development. Throughout this parent guide, we share examples of what social and emotional skills in early childhood years might look like later in life. I like the instant gratification of seeing how skills and behaviors related to initiative, self-regulation, and attachment/relationships that are formed in the preschool years will benefit children for years to come. A few examples from the booklet include:



Your child chooses to do something challenging (initiative).

Your child will explore new interests, hobbies, and skills.

Your child tells others how he feels, rather than acting out in anger (self-regulation).

Your child will respect and politely communicate concerns to teachers, coaches, and supervisors.

Your child plays well with other children (attachment/relationships).

Your child gets along well with co-workers and friends.

Many more links between “now” and “forever” are made in this booklet, along with strategies for families to help promote the social and emotional health and resilience of their preschoolers.

As I come to the end of my era as a preschool parent, I can’t help but take this opportunity to pause and watch as my last little “butterfly” heads out into the world. I have made a wish for her that she stays a butterfly as long as she can--there’s plenty of time later to be steady and sure like the rest of us caterpillars. This is the time for her to explore, create, and fly as high as her little wings will take her.

I know with the preschool experiences our family had that our children can make friends and be friends and can be successful and happy, for now and forever. I wish the same to the families and children whose lives you touch.

Now I am ready for that tissue.

This post was contributed by Karen Cairone. Karen has been with the Devereux Center for Resilient Children, Early Childhood Initiative for the past thirteen years. While with Devereux, she has co-authored several resources including Facing the Challenge DVD series, Classroom Moments DVD, For Now and Forever: A Family Guide for Infants and Toddlers, and Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure. Karen has two upcoming publications with Gryphon House. Karen is editor of the DCRC national newsletter and delivers training on topics related to social and emotional health and resilience around the country. Karen Cairone lives in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

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