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I want to start this article off with letting all the parents out there know YOU ARE doing a great job. Don’t get discouraged with anything you read. Don’t hesitate to get help when needed. You are fantastic, beautiful and doing great!
My Child is Scared to Leave me to go to School.
Have you ever felt like this: I’ve noticed lately my 5 years old daughter is having anxiety about leaving me and our family dog to go to school. Today she broke down in tears when I asked her to pick up her laundry. She started tearing up saying “I just know what to do.” She was getting frustrated. Then I asked her “What’s wrong honey?” She replied with “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.” So I got down on her level and gave her a huge hug. She started crying telling me how much she missed me while she was at school today, and she worries about the dog while she’s at school too. I asked her why she is scared to leave the dog. I thought that was kind of a weird fear honestly. She told me because I leave her home alone by herself. I reassured her that our dog lays on the couch snoring all day. I also reassured her that I am home all day long waiting until I can pick her up from school. I told her I miss her so much too while she is at school.
Okay, So What’s Going on?
According to Parents.com, which you can read about here, it is important to address those fears. There’s a natural spike in anxiety in this age group (Mann, J., Unknown). Kids start to worry about death, injury, etc. They realize that something bad could possibly happen to them or their loved ones. I remember as a child, probably around this age, being terrified to leave my mom while I went off to school. I constantly thought about what if something happened to my mom or dad. What if they died?
I am not saying your child, or mine, has an anxiety disorder (they might), but I want to discuss what that means. According to an article on Brain Connection, which you can read about here, anxiety develops around 8 months of age. That is pretty early. This is the stage where they begin to start to cry when they do not see mom or dad in sight. They learn by crying you will come back to essentially save them. “According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistics Manual-IV (DSM-IV), “the anxiety or fear must cause distress or affect social, academic, or job functioning and must last at least one month.” (Brain Connection, Unknown). Is this anxiety or fear effecting your child’s social, academic or job functioning abilities? How long has your child’s anxiety gone on for?
So My Child has Separation Anxiety. Now What?
No let’s talk about solutions. Make sure you address the fears. Comfort your child. Lots of hugs and reassurance that this is normal and everything will be alright. Make sure when you address these fears that there is nothing bigger going on. According to an article in healthychildren.org make sure there is nothing bigger like bullying, teasing, abuse, fear of the teacher, fear of failure, or fear of going to the bathroom in public going on (Unknown, 2017). These are just to name a few. What kind of anxieties does your child have?
You can try to reduce these fears by giving them something special to leave in their cubby or backpack. A nice family photo is a great solution. I remember when I was in kindergarten my mom put a blanky in my backpack so whenever I felt anxious or scared I could open my backpack and look inside to feel secure again. Honestly, as ridiculous as that sounds it worked.
Today I sent her to school with a poncho I crocheted. She has been holding on to this poncho since day one of starting her new school. I think it helps self-soothe her. On the way to school this morning we talked about there is nothing to worry about because mommy and doggy are at home all day and safe. I reminded her the sweater was in her backpack and she can put it on any time she misses her mommy. She asked a ton of follow up questions about being able to wear it. I reassured her to just put it on for every scenario running through her head. She finally let it go, and didn’t seem anxious when I dropped her off.
When my daughter switched schools in the middle of the school year we read A Pocket Full of Kisses by Audrey Penn and Barbara Leonard Gibson. You can order it here. This book is so great for times like this. It is about a child raccoon who is getting ready to start his first day of school, but is scared he will miss Mama Racoon. Mama Racoon put a bunch of kisses in his pocket so when he needed a kiss from his mother they were there. The mother then kissed his hand over and over and told him to put them in his pocket for safe keeping for whenever he felt scared. We did this with my daughter her first day of school at the new school. She pulled out her “kisses” whenever she needed them to feel close to home. It worked great!
Another great book to try is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. You can order that book here. I like this book too. It is about the same premise where the little raccoon is scared to start school.
When do I get Help?
Please note that the time to get help for your child and to seek a professional depends a lot on the child. If they are inconsolable at school that is not a good situation for everyone around them. If they are peeing themselves at school that is another sign to look out for. Insomnia, headaches, constant stomach aches, and chest pains are all signs that there is a bigger issue going on that needs to be addressed by a professional.
If your child is having separation anxiety I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment with your story below.
Mann, J. (Unknown). When Your Child Doesn’t Want to go to School. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/kids/education/elementary-school/when-your-child-doesnt-want-to-go-to-school/
Unknown. (2017). School Avoidance: Tips for Concerned Parents. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/School-Avoidance.aspx
Brain Connections. (Unknown). Afraid to Leave Mom: Separation Anxiety in Children. Retrieved from https://brainconnection.brainhq.com/2000/11/20/afraid-to-leave-mom-separation-anxiety-in-children/