Our youngest son recently started preschool. He had a great time at the Open House where he met his teacher and played with the toys, all in the comforting presence of mom and dad. The first day of school was exciting for him.
He tried to wrap his two year old mind around going to preschool by himself, but I don’t think he really got it. I’ve learned over the years that with my boys the first day of separation is always easier than subsequent days. By the second day, they know what to expect and start to resist.
I was cautiously optimistic about our first goodbye. He glided in to the room and immediately found a toy to play with. He barely gave me a hug and kiss, because he was so engrossed in what he was doing. “Yatzhee!” I said to myself. That was even easier than his brothers.
Separation anxiety was not going to be an issue for us. Or was it?
I returned three hours later to find a happy guy. Phew! Unfortunately, that wasn’t the complete picture. Shortly after he had given me his flippant farewell, he had lost his composure for about 10 minutes. The teacher thought maybe he had pinched his finger in a toy. Perhaps I was in denial, but I chose to believe the teacher’s speculation that he had hurt himself and not cried from separation anxiety. I told the story to my husband that evening.
He laughed consolingly and told me about a game that the two of them play where our son pretends to have hurt his finger to elicit sympathy and my husband pretends to comfort him. So much for the pinched finger theory. That only left one thing… Gasp! Could it have been separation anxiety and my son’s sad plea for sympathy? Well, duh!!!
The next preschool day, our little preschooler started crying and chanting: “I don’t want to go to preschool by myself!” for the hour before we left the house, the drive to school, and the walk into the building. Then he just opened up the floodgates. The same thing happened the couple days thereafter. Well, not exactly the same thing. His tearful chant changed when we get to the parking lot to, “I don’t want to go inside!” and evolved to, “I told you I didn’t want to come inside!”
I’ve been trying to establish a simple, short routine. I draw him a quick picture, he finds a toy to play with me for a short while, we give each other a hug and kiss. This is usually done while he continues to cry and chant. The other day, they said he only cried for about two minutes, which is progress. I’m hoping to phase out the picture and short play over time and just give him a hug and kiss and send him on his merry way.
Honestly, this separation anxiety is to be expected if his brothers are any indication. At least, he’s doing better than Son #2, who would cry for an extended period of time. Some days he even had to be the “little helper” for the director and follow her as she bustled around the school. That seemed to work for him (and his sympathetic but busy classroom teachers). Eventually, he stopped crying all together. In comparison, Son #3 cried for mere seconds when I left the room, but he kept this up for the better part of the school year.
Strange, isn’t it? One was a lengthy and dramatic crier for a short part of the school year while the other was a short and intense crier for most of the school year. Separation anxiety can manifest itself in such a variety of ways. This time around I’m hoping for a short bout of crying that will fizzle out in the next month or so. My prediction is that soon he’ll be running in to school so fast that I won’t be able to keep up with him.
[Photo Credit: Brenda Anderson]