Updated: Apr 23, 2020
By Melissa Holland Mansika
Every day, when I drop my six-year-old son Max off at school, or I leave the house, or it is time for bed, we have a ritual, where we make our “Love String”. We point to ourselves and say “I”, we cross our arms over our heart and say “love” and then we touch each other’s pointer fingertip and say “you” and then put our finger to our lips and kiss. I created the “Love String” when my son was three, to help him feel connected even when we were apart. I taught him that it created a long string of love energy between us that was always there and could not be broken.
For the first several months, he had a LOT of questions. The conversations were something like this:
“But can’t the love string be broken?” No, not at all, it’s made of love energy; it's unbreakable.
“But it can’t stretch all the way to my school, can it? But what about all the way to Amara’s (my mom’s house in Santa Fe)? Can it stretch all the way to the moon?” Yes, it can stretch to the moon, and back; it can stretch forever if it needs to…it’s made of love.
But what if a garbage truck drives right through it? Nothing can break it. It is unbreakable. No matter what.
He came up with everything his three-year old brain could think of to test the Love String. It became our ritual for every parting. Over time, he added to it; he added, at the end, saying “hugs” (and we hug) and “kisses” and then we kiss.
Dr. Sonia Lupien, the director of the Center for Studies on Human Stress, identifies that for a situation to be stressful, it contains one or more of the following characteristics, and a way to remember these is with an acronym NUTS:
· N - novelty; something new
· U - unpredictability; no way of knowing it could occur
· T - threat to the ego; feeling your competence is questioned
· S - sense of control; feeling you have little or no control in a situation
For any child, heading into preschool, a new school, daycare, camp, all four of these factors could be in play. It is so easy as a parent to underestimate the stress our kids are feeling for their everyday activities. First of all, a small child (or even a teenager) does not have the ability to identify specifically what’s causing them stress, name it, and then communicate that in clear, coherent language. If only a three-year-old could look up at their big adult and say “I’m feeling like I’m not going to fit in or really know what I’m doing in this preschool and I feel scared.” Also, we tend to look at these small children and their behavior through a very adult lens without realizing it. We see preschool (or a playdate or a swim lesson or a gymnastics lesson etc) as something so easy, fun and safe, and it is hard to understand or imagine what could be stressful.
So this ritual has served as a bridge - a solid, predictable bridge - to support him during times of transition, from the familiar to the new. It ultimately helps reduce his stress during these transitions, whether it is from home to school, or from awake to bedtime. His teacher in Pre-K (pre-kindergarten) wrote “Transitioning into his school day is successful for Max as he has a clear goodbye routine that he and his mom do as a signal that school has started. Max separates and then engages with teachers and friends.” It is also an example of a strategy that helps Max with a personally meaningful ritual that promotes restoration and resilience; he can feel the emotional connection we can have, even when we are physically apart. I had also told him that anytime he felt he needed me, he could put his finger right on his heart, which would activate the Love String.
I have since realized that we do this ritual not just for Max, but for me as well. It was painful to watch him leave me to head off to first grade. Talk about NUTS. The newness of this stage of motherhood, the unpredictability of this new school experience, the threat to my ego (which is every damn day of motherhood) and how competently will I handle a first-grader and all the new social issues, and the sense of control I lose now that he’ll have full days on his own… it is a lot. And I won’t even know if he ate his snack.
He’s nearly seven now, and we still do this every time. It will break my heart when he doesn’t want to do this in front of kids anymore. That time will come, I know, but I already have a plan: first, we will continue to do it, but subtly, or in private. Then, when he doesn’t really want to do that anymore, we’ll modify it to just one simple gesture, like a gang sign only different. I’m on it, Max. Don’t stress about it. Mama’s got a plan.
Original Blog Here