Dealing with separation anxiety - Mothering Forums
Parenting > Dealing with separation anxiety
Boot's Avatar Boot 12:00 PM 11-22-2010

Mods: I'm putting this here because I'd really like to hear from BTDT. I hope that it can stay here. 

My 3 1/2 year old is going through a stage of major separation anxiety. This is so new for him. I've left him with sitters before no problem. The main issue is bedtime and preschool. He won't be left in his room and I long since let him move back into our room (and bed) but even then he won't let me leave him which makes putting his baby sister to bed very hard. Preschool was fine at first but now he has extreme fears. He wants me to stay (I can't stay for long as I have a 9 month old who needs to go home and nap). Today he wouldn't even do any activities but sat next to me for half an hour, at which point I gave up and took him home. I feel like it's getting worse and worse because I am not being clear and consistent enough. Today I was determined to leave promptly but he got so upset and the teachers don't encourage leaving them when they're like that. I couldn't leave him without help even if I wanted to. I would need someone to hold him. I kept on hoping he would settle down but he didn't. I don't understand why this has come up. He is normally so independent and he was fine at school at first. 


What should I do? Go in everyday as if I expect him to stay and then just bring him home if/when he won't? Tell the teachers that I need their help to leave him no matter what (not sure if they'll agree to this)? Pull him out?


His diet and sleep are good. I take him to a naturopath and she says it's just normal separation anxiety and I should leave him, he'll be fine. 


Part of the problem is that at least 2 other parents stay the whole time and he really wants me to do this too. He likes school and I don't think there are any issues troubling him. It is very gentle and simple. 


He has a lot of fears of monsters, etc at the moment. He is also taking about death a fair bit. His behaviour is very difficult just now too. It takes a huge effort on my part to get him to follow the simplest instructions (like sit nicely at the table to eat). I really need the break of preschool, particularly since my DH is working really hard right now and I mostly have DS on my own for 12 hours a day even on weekends. He doesn't nap any more. 


What should I do? Please help. 

Boot's Avatar Boot 03:03 PM 11-22-2010

Please someone? I really need help deciding what to do tomorrow. 

Red Pajama's Avatar Red Pajama 10:03 AM 11-23-2010

I'm sorry you're stressed about this.  It is a hard situation.


It's hard to know what you should do, but I'll tell you what I think I would do in the situation.


At 3.5, I would not put a child in preschool who didn't want to be there, unless I had to because of work.  If you don't have to have him there, I'd pull him out for the rest of the year and try again (maybe) next school year.


What to do with him at home becomes the next question.  I'm homeschooling my twins this year for kindergarten, and I find that when they become rowdy is when I need to be more hands on with what they are doing.  We do activities scattered throughout the day, when it seems like they need a break from each other. One can spend lots of time with reading books, listening to books on CD ( a favorite of one of my boys at about 3.5).  If he doesn't nap anymore, consider letting naptime for the younger be your movie/tv time for the older.


For socialization and exposure to other kids, you can use library story times. 


I wish you lots of luck.

Super~Single~Mama 06:55 PM 11-23-2010

Take this with a grain of salt, b/c I don't have a 3.5yo yet.


Is there any way you can talk to his teachers when he isn't there?  To come up with some strategies so that you can leave him?  Since you need the break, I would see if there was any way to gently force the issue.  (that sounds like an oxymoron I know)


See if one of the caregivers can have one of his fave activities ready for him first thing, start it with him, and then leave.  Some kids cry when mom leaves, and then are fine within a few minutes. 


You also said that he used to be OK there - was there anything that changed in particular?  Did something scare him?  One of his fave caregivers leave?  A friend leaving maybe?  I don't know, just something to think about - if there was a big change can you talk to him about it?  Do you talk to him about preschool at home at all?  Do you tell him he's going the night before, or on the weekend do you talk about how on Monday you're going to get up and go to school?  One of my friends has a baby who used to HATE going to daycare, and one he got to be 15 or so months she started showing him pictures of it, and of the people there on the days that he didn't go so that he would be more ok with being left - it worked really well for her ds. 


Good luck.  I know the feeling of needing a break, and the one 3.5yo I know is quite a handful!


ETA - I just remembered that you said you have a 9mo as well.  Was your ods going to preschool before the baby arrived?  Did that change around the time baby came?  Are you getting quality one on one time with you ods?  That might help the separation anxiety (although I know its tough since your DH works alot), but trying to carve out some time that is special between you and ods while your dh watches the baby might really help him to stay attached to you, and feel ok about not being with you as much.

Shaki's Avatar Shaki 07:37 PM 11-23-2010

I don't know if I have any advice really, but I've been through this and I can tell you about my experience. I'm not saying this would work for every family or child, it's just what we did. My DD had really bad separation anxiety when she started school (this is two years ago now).The teachers preferred you to stay if they felt the child needed you, so for several weeks that's what I did. I spent a few weeks in the class room, but I started to feel like having me there was ratcheting up DD's anxiety rather than soothing her. So I spoke with her teachers and we agreed that we basically had to rip the band aid off, she had a hard time (and so did I). She was scared and sad but she did it! Now her social confidence and the joy she takes in school is a real joy to behold. One of my big lesson's from that time is that this was a process that DD had to go through on her own, I couldn't go through it for her. I think she also needed to learn that she could do it--that even if she was scared she could do it. I did however come up with alot of strategies to help support her in her process. Here they are:


We got the book "the kissing hand" (about a raccoon who is scared to go to school) and read it every day. I also drew "kissing hands" (hearts) on DD's hand everyday (on both hands if she wanted and anywere else she wanted too). And she drew them on me too. This reassured her that even though we were apart we were still connected.


I conveyed to her the message that i had confidence and trust in her teachers (which I absolutely did. I had been in the classroom for weeks so I had observed them very closely and had complete faith in them) More importantly I conveyed to her that even though I knew this was really hard for her, I knew she could do it. Even if she was sad and scared and missing me she could do it.


I made her a small book that she could wear around her neck, that described every step of her day at school. I used stickers for each step so it was totally visual. For example "Mommy and DD walk to school", "DD puts her outside shoes in her cubby" (a picture of shoes), "DD has snack with her friends and teachers"(a picture of an apple)  etc so that at any point in the day if she started to lose it she could look at the book and see how many more steps until I came to get her. Her teachers knew about the book and helped her use it etc, when it seemed she needed it. Eventually she just left it hanging in her cubby.


She came up with the idea of bringing "pocket friends" with her to school. The children weren't allowed to bring lovies from home, but a pocket friend was a small secret comfort object she could keep in her pocket.


She wore a necklace of mine to school everyday.


I also sang a song to her everyday on the way to school about what she would do at school and how at the end I would pick her up and bring her home.


So...that's what we did.


I guess I do have a few other suggestions:


The first is that whatever you decide to do, be consistent with it but don't feel like you have to rigid-it's ok to make adjustments.


If the teachers are ok with parents staying, is there a way that you and your 9 month old can stay? Can you wear the 9 month old, for the nap that happens during school time? Can you nurse in the classroom? Just a thought... if it's working for your DS to have you there, maybe just figure out a way to make it work for you and your 9 month old as well...


Good luck. Separation anxiety can be heartbreaking. Be gentle with yourself and your DS you'll make it through.

Boot's Avatar Boot 08:26 PM 11-23-2010

Thanks for the support. Today went a lot better for some unknown reason. He was adamant at first that he wanted to be with me all day and that he didn't even want to do painting with me there. I offered to help him put his apron on a few times but he refused. Then he got drawn into some play and when it was time to paint he just came and said 'I'm ready to put the apron on now'. And he went to paint. After painting I said I had to go put the baby down and he could come with me or I could come back for him after her nap. He just said 'OK but stay for one more minute'. After a minute I said goodbye and he said ' can you get me a snack before you go?' SO I gave him a piece of bread and left. He was fine. He had a major meltdown after pickup so I think it was hard for him to keep it together all morning but he was really proud of himself. We'll see how tomorrow goes but I have hope. Thanks again

Shaki's Avatar Shaki 10:00 AM 11-24-2010

That's great Mama!


Owen'nZoe's Avatar Owen'nZoe 12:53 PM 11-24-2010

Glad to hear everything went better yesterday!


What do the teachers do when he's having a hard time with you leaving? I know you said they really aren't supportive of you leaving when he is upset, but in my experience, it can work really well if the teacher shows the child compassion and affection. My children both went through phases where drop-off was difficult, but their teachers would take them from me, hold them and cuddle them until they calmed down (just a few minutes after I was out the door, from what I understand). As a mom, it was hard to leave them upset, but I don't think it was harmful, as their emotional needs were being met by a caring adult.


We also did the Kissing Hand (in fact, my 1st grader still asks for a kissing hand before he gets on the bus in the morning), and a worry stone. This was a stone locket of mine that I put on a string and pinned in their pocket. I told them that anytime they missed mommy during the day, they just need to rub it, and I'd send them hugs from wherever I was. It worked wonders!

kdescalzi's Avatar kdescalzi 09:21 PM 11-29-2010

I am having the same problem with my Ds. He will be 4 in a few days and he was going to preschool since September....then all of a sudden, he freaked out when I tried to leave. He had always been happy to stay and play while I left with his baby sister. Last week he cried and told me he didn't want to be without me. His teachers are great....super sweet and positive and kind. They tried very hard to distract him and I even left to change my dd diaper but he was very very upset. I could not leave him. I took him home with me and that night he said he had a good day and I asked why and his answer was "because you didn't leave me" I knew then that I did the right thing. The problem is why is this happening now? I spoke to his teacher and she assured me nothing negative has happened. I asked her advice and she suggested I  wait and try again in the new year rather than force him and traumatize him more. I know some people may think it is just something they have to get over but in my heart I feel this is cruel. For whatever reason, my son is not comfortable without me right now. It seems strange because I have never heard of a 4yr old with separation anxiety but I have to follow his lead. He has his whole life to go to school. Am I concerned? a little worried? YES but I am listening to my heart. HTH