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Help! Separation anxiety for toddler!

  1. #1
    FutureHKmom is offline Registered User
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    Help! Separation anxiety for toddler!

    My almost 2.5 year old son just started nursery school a week and a half ago. He attended class for 4 days and then got sick so I let him stay home for 3 days to get better. The first four days were not good for him. THe first two days he was willing to walk in the class by himself but then after playing for a few mintues called for me and started crying. The teacher said both days he cried for about 30-45 minutes but was afterwards willing to play and join in the activities for the rest of the time (about 2.15 hours more). On the third day (which was after a weekend) he wouldn't go into the class by himself and clung to me and started crying outside of the classroom. Once class started he only cried for about 20 -30 minutes and then joined in all the activities. The fourth day he started complaining in the car that he was scared to go to school. Whenever I pick him up at school and ask him if he wants to go to school the next day, he says no (though he as recently admitted that the activities he does in school are fun). In addition to these problems with nursery school, I have found him to be a LOT more clingy to me since school started. In fact, sometimes he cries when I leave the room! And if he goes out without me he cries and complains that he wants me. Yesterday, I took him to a new playgroup where I could accompany him, but he said he was afraid to go in and when we went inside the class, he clung onto me the whole time (though he did participate). He has never been like this before - he has been to accompanied playgroup since he was 1 yrs old and has always enjoyed the activities - never showing the fear that he showed yesterday. I know that most of this comes down to separation anxiety and the stress he is feeling from starting school by himself. But I just want to hear about other mom's experiences and want any advice or tips on how to deal with this. My husband thinks I can not stick to him too much and that I have to just let him cry it out without me because the more I hug him and pick him up the more he will stick to me. I just don't know what to do and am getting a little worried about this! Thanks for any thoughts on the matter.

  2. #2
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    I think that the way your child is reacting is completely normal. His life has been turned upside down recently by his entrance into nursery school. This is a big deal in his life and not something that should be taken lightly--although to an adult it doesn't seem like a stressful situation at all--to a child (a child that is part baby and part child at this point) it is absolutely a stressful situation to adjust to.

    Your son only started going to school a week and a half ago so this hasn't been going on for very long. And you can see a direct link between his behavior and the recent changes in his life. It's not just coming out of the blue without any cause. That's good news--sometimes our children do strange things and we have no idea why they are doing them--at least in this case you know where the anxiety is coming from.

    I say, stick by his side for the next month to six weeks and see how things go. I don't think you can fairly thrust him into the middle of an unfamiliar environment and not expect some anxiety--even anxiety that carries over into other areas of his life. So, help him walk through the anxiety. Give as much reassurance as you can and comfort in the beginning stages and gradually withdraw your presence as you see he's able to handle it. You may have to push him a bit and make him a little uncomfortable. But, I think as mothers we know the difference between "My child feels a bit anxious about this" and "My child is terrified of this."

    The good news is that he actually does enjoy nursery school and is still willing to participate in activities although he may feel anxious and need you nearby his side. This is probably a phase that he needs to go through--the more support you can give him through it the faster it will pass. If you "push him away" (that's not exactly what I mean but the only way I could think of saying it) too fast and make him "grow up and be a 'man'" (you know what I mean) when he clearly needs your assurance you run the risk of drawing out the process longer. He is only 2.5-years-old afterall. In my home country most of the parents I know wouldn't dream of putting their child in any sort of formal education at that age--for exactly the same reasons as you're experiencing.

    Having said all this, I sent my son to nursery school when he was 2 years and 2 months old. I think he cried a bit the first time I left him but by the third day he was adjusted. In the same class another boy cried for an hour at a time for a week or more and refused to be comforted by the teachers. Every child is different.
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    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

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  3. #3
    carang's Avatar
    carang is offline Registered User
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    totally, utterly, completely, entirely normal.

    don't stop what you are doing... continue encouraging him and then praising him when he does it without crying.

  4. #4
    kacoak is offline Registered User
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    My daughter is also 2.5 yrs old, and she, too, just started nursery school last week. Children are unpredictable (can be good or bad!). We enrolled her in the same school since she was 2 for accompanied playgroup, with the hope that with familiar environment and some of the same teachers, and hence, familiar faces, she will ease into unaccompanied nursery seamlessly. But no, she begged me to go back to the baby class and started crying when I dropped her off for the first few days. The past couple of days have seen her calming down as she started adapting.
    I hear lots of crying in her class, too, so I'm sure there's always some degree of separation anxiety at this stage. Do be supportive, and give him a lot of assurance and confidence as you leave him at school. Say things like "you'll be fine", or "you'll do great! I'll pick you up when school's over!" and then make the goodbye brief, and leave him with a smile. Children are sensitive and they will pick up your anxiety too if you are overly worried as he started crying. On the other hand, if you are calm and confident, your son will soon pick that up as well, and will know that there is nothing to worry about.

    Good luck! Should be another week before the calm!

  5. #5
    lesliefu is offline Registered User
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    sounds completely normal. my daughter is the same - but for school, i haven't dropped her off at school (or the school bus now) instead i have my husband do it as she is less "clingy" around him, and the transition for accompanied school to school by herself was more smooth (I believe).

    the first week of school it only took my husband 2 days of accompanying our daughter to school and some crying to get used to being dropped off, and by day 3 she was more comfortable. must add though that she had been going to this school for accompanied school with me before the summer...which i believe is the same as your child, and so theoreticallly she knows the school and nothing is "foreign". also, school was only 1 hour long the first week, gradually increasing to 3 hours only last week. think that helped too....perhaps your hubby / someone she is not clingy to could drop her off?

  6. #6
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    nicolejoy is offline Registered User
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    Completely normal!!

    One suggestion that I do have is that you need to teach him confidence. If you also are worried and anxious about leaving him, it will not help him to learn to be confident. You need to tell him things like "Mummy will take you to school but I cannot stay. I will miss you but I know you will have a lot of friends playing with the toys and books, and with your friends. I will see you after school." Tell him how proud you are of him, and in the transition period, you can give him some extra treats/rewards after school if you like... it can be anything, from food if you want to do that, or if not, even some cheap stickers or stamps etc...

    He will get there - but you need to have confidence in him before he will learn to have confidence in himself. Keep cheering him on and he'll get there :)

  7. #7
    lesliefu is offline Registered User
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    just thought of something a parent taught me...it was to say "see you later" rather than "goodbye" when leaving them at school...it's not as "final" if you know what I mean. I added something like "after school mommy will bring you to have lunch with auntie so and so" so there is something for them to look forward to when you leave and you leave on a happy note!

  8. #8
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    the teachers at my son's school advocate no long clingy goodbyes. just say see you later and then go, and they'll soon forget the separation and just focus on the games and fun. if he's currently clingy to you, i think it may be easier if you're not the one who drops him off at school! maybe someone else? helper?

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