Quick background: I want to homeschool, dh wants them in school. We homeschooled for ds1's first two years and now ds1 is in 2nd grade and ds2 is in Kinder. They started this year, our compromise was to pay for a very small private international school w/ Reggio Emelia in the pre-K/K classrooms. The first month went OK for both. Ds1 is still doing great (and he's the one with the most severe separation anxiety) but ds2 has started with horrible crying and clinging and desperation at dropoff time. Because I wanted to homeschool anyway, I'm obviously conflicted. However, I don't feel like taking him out is an option, as they ended up in school this year because the argument about school was taking a toll on our marriage.
My question is, how can I help him? How can I cope myself? I am completely torn apart by these separations, I feel like I am betraying him, I feel like it is wrong. I spend the day with my stomach in knots, I feel stressed and exhausted. The first things ds2 says in the mornings are "I don't want to go to school" or "I'm not going to school today."
Please help. I am so sad about this. I'm tired of crying.
My second son had horrible separation anxiety his first year of school. What helped was being really calm and projecting the vibe that there was nothing to be afraid of, that he was perfectly safe and happy.
Avoidance of something that makes a child nervous kind of reinforces that there *is* something to be afraid of... so if you did take him out of school, it would be confirming his fear.
What helped us was to have a routine at drop off--a song, short hug, kiss, and out the door. And right when this ends you have to leave- do not linger. The faster you are out the door the better for your son.
I know how hard this is! And for us, my husband always had an easier time dropping off our son then I did, because he just was more matter of fact and out the door.
Also, having a small anchor treasure also helped, a small rock, small toy, he could keep in his pocket and hold in his pocket if he felt nervous... but not take out and play with, gave him a touch stone to home.
Good luck! It is a process, but well worth it, IMO.
Thank you... I think if dh could drop him off it wouldn't be an issue at all.. but school doesn't start until an hour and a half after he has to be at work. I know that faster is better but we're at the point where he won't even walk in on his own, he's either attached to my leg or I'm carrying him, and simply getting him off of me requires help. We have a goodbye routine we've done since he was 2, and he won't do it because it requires letting go of me. The teachers are telling me that at least once a day he cries and says he misses me. I think it's just too many days and too long. :(
Have you explored working with a therapist on reducing anxiety in your son, overall? There are several good books, too. Is he in a full day, or do they have a 1/2 day option?
He is in full day as that is the only option. The interesting thing is that a month ago I wouldn't have said he had an anxiety issue at all. He's really confident and independent. His older brother was the one I was so worried about starting school. I am looking in to therapist options but this whole thing is so un-like him and came on so suddenly I'm wondering if it's something about the situation or just my anxiety that I should look at. The teacher even told me, after I posted the other day, that he approached her and told her he was so glad he was going to that school. ?!? I don't know what to think. But thank you for your suggestions.
I am so sorry that you are going through this. I really don't have anything to add other then a hug (((Hug))) I fell like at the current time I am going to be writing this post next year :-(
So your son is 5 and this is his first significant experience being away from you? And it's full day? That's going to be a hard transition. (Not saying he should have started earlier, but it does mean it's not a 'quick fix'.)
I think there are two separate issues:
1. The drop-off issue. This is true 'separation anxiety' in that the thought of being separated from you is what makes him anxious. It's not being there, it's the actual act of leaving you. That's pretty typical. It's also very typical for it to surface after the novelty of daycare/school has worn off. The first few weeks it was fun. Now it's just school. Our ds is pretty reserved and started daycare 3 days a week at 2 1/2. Until he hit about 4 1/2, he didn't like to separate. This will get better. Things that helped:
-Arriving early so that the classroom was less busy and the teachers had time to tend to him.
-Handing him over to a teacher (not trying to get him interested in an activity).
-Being quick but loving.
2. Missing you during the day. This too is pretty typical. I'd only be worried if he keeps this up for a number of months, and if it's long bouts of crying and not just a "I miss my mom" kind of thing and then he moves on. I'd ask the teachers about this (maybe via e-mail so he's not overhearing it). Ask if they think it's interfering with his day. Ask if they think it's atypical for a child who's not been away from home much before. Ask what they do to comfort him. For our son, the teachers used to help him write letters to me and that gave him some power over his feelings. Heck, I even got a few of those from our daughter, who never showed much separation anxiety, in Kindergarten (it too was Reggio Emilia and all day). Kindergarteners do miss their parents.
I would recommend therapy for you (first), and then maybe couples therapy. You need a 'neutral party' to talk about issues such as: Why do you feel so strongly about homeschooling? Why is this (relatively normal, but distressing behavior) causing you so much anxiety? Is there a way you can come to peace with your compromise? Why, if you feel so strongly, did you feel you had to 'give in' and try school with your kids? Is there any way you and your husband can work through this difference that feels right to both of you? Those are some pretty big issues.
Honestly, I don't think your son needs therapy right now. I don't see anything concerning in his behavior, but the fact that you're crying a lot and you're constantly tense over this issue is not good. And he could be picking up on your tension. Kids have a great sense of when something is off with their parents.
I agree that maybe couples therapy might be helpful, but play therapy can be extremely helpful in reducing separation anxiety--whether it is usual or unusual. I would hate to have my child suffer like that every day, and would want to arm him with tools to process the experience, and also handle it in a less painful way.
*A lot* of our experience actually focused on how *I* interacted with my son to reduce anxiety around separation, and not inadvertently reinforce his fear.
LynnS6, that was an incredibly helpful post. Thank you for the clear information as well as the completely calm delivery. It all rings true to me and if I can just keep those thoughts in my head *during* the dropoff I will be much better off. Maybe I'll print it off and read it right before driving to school every day... I seem to have my own issues regarding separation from my kids so I'm sure therapy would be helpful. I know my reactions to his behavior are not helpful for the situation. The questions regarding my husband and I and our discussions around school are obviously related, but I have tried to keep them separated, and I thought I was doing well with finding peace in the school decision right up until ds2 started having the strong reactions at dropoff.
Thanks to all of you for the comfort and help. I'm not in quite as dark a place now. And, only one more dropoff until the weekend.
Kids are so very insightful about our feelings and they can pick up on them. It's possible he is aware on some level how conflicted you are, and he wants to help you out or please you by needing you. It seems like it would be essential (if this is going to get better) for you to get very clear about your feelings and to send him with joy, not with reticence. Children know when we are ambivalent. A shift in your intentionality may be all that he needs to feel safe and comfortable about going.
a BIG difference that had a HUGE impact on my dd was spending more time with her in the AM. at waking up. we'd snuggle and hang out together. for at least 15 mins. i also made the morning routine simple. not rushed. what of course was huge was having afternoon K which started at 10"30 am so gave us plenty of time together in the AM together. instead of driving we'd walk to school together - about 20 mins.
but being with her as she woke up and we played together and snuggled (something about a lot of body contact is VERY reassuring to dd even now at the age of 9) really helped with her separation.
about the missing - when dd first started i told dd that i would be around school for the next hour. so if things got really bad she could always call me and i'd get her immediately. now i knew she would not take me up on that. and i DID NOT stay back around school, but somehow knowing that i was that close by really helped her to feel secure that mama was around. after a month she told me she was ok and that i could go home now.
and yes mama. take care of yourself and your needs. your kids will be ok if you are ok. they will be sad but not harmed. its sad that they have to be sad and you can't stop it. but that is life.
if it helps give your son something of you to hold that day - a hair clip or pen or earring or something that he can keep in his pocket or on his desk.
my dd had drop off anxiety for years. yes it was horribly painful for me but looking back has it scarred her in some way? i can't tell. she is a happy 9 year old who does not want to be with mama all the time.
I seem to have my own issues regarding separation from my kids so I'm sure therapy would be helpful. I know my reactions to his behavior are not helpful for the situation. The questions regarding my husband and I and our discussions around school are obviously related, but I have tried to keep them separated, and I thought I was doing well with finding peace in the school decision right up until ds2 started having the strong reactions at dropoff.
Have you guys tried marriage counseling? I think that the conflict in your marriage is part of the problem, and I agree with lauren that your mixed feelings about all this are feeding into your son's anxiety.
We are former homeschoolers, and one of my kids has special needs including a diagnosed anxiety disorder. When she started school, drop off was a nightmare. I was already feeling guilty that we needed to stop homeschooling, so her anxiety made me feel worse. In turn, me feeling worse caused her more anxiety. It was a downward spiral.
We were in marriage counseling at the time, and I worked on this with the therapist. The therapist helped me break the spiral. It was VERY helpful for my DH to be part of the process because it helped me better understand what was going on, and then to be able to empathize and help work toward a solution.
The foundation for my DD was DH and I getting our sh*t together as a couple. One of the kindest things we can do for our anxious kids is to figure out the issues in our marriage. It's honestly more important than whether they homeschool or attend school.
My DD ended up switching schools and now goes to an alternative school that really suits her. She is 100% better off in her current school than she was as a homeschooler. Even though we didn't have to deal with her anxiety the same way when she was homeschooling, she wasn't learning to be confident in her self and deal with the outside world, she was just avoiding it. My DD has a better, brighter future because we dealt with her anxiety rather than sparing her from it.
Good luck. I've been where you are, and I know it is not a pleasant place to be.
but everything has pros and cons