Dealing with Separation Anxiety

After almost three weeks since school started, our first-grade daughter is finally quite done with episodes of separation anxiety. She now looks forward to Mondays and enjoys doing her homework with me. She has even agreed to stay at my in-laws' during weekdays as their house, where we lived for five years before renting our own, is closer to her school.

Nini is just turning six in September. For a couple of weeks or so after classes began, she cried every morning while I got her ready and during the commute to school with her dad. At school, her teachers literally had to pry her away from her Papa or lola, whenever flag ceremony is about to start.

 It was pure torture on our part and I suppose, on hers. Every day she begged to be allowed to stay at home and skip school. More than once, I was sorely tempted to give in seeing how terrified she looked. But I held out.

Her teachers reported that she eventually calms down minutes after her dad or grandma leaves school premises. Her adviser, Ms. Ana, is even impressed with her reading and comprehension skills. She's able to perform school tasks as needed but the next morning, the same thing would happen again.

Nini is a cheerful and bouncy little girl so I was really clueless as to what's going. When asked why she cries, she never gave a concrete answer. All she says is that she wants to stay with me all day. This is the first time we've seen her like this and she has already attended two years of preschool at her school.

I was worried that she is not be ready yet for grade school, at her age. After Nursery, her teacher suggested she skip Kindergarten and be admitted to Prep, which is why she is younger than most of her classmates. I started thinking that maybe it was a mistake. But then, I remembered having peers who were younger than the rest of the batch and graduated early for their age. Nini's case is not unheard of.

I then did some research on child separation anxiety and picked up very useful pointers that I was able to apply. I saw how many parents have gone/are going through the exact same thing. There were even cases when children actually throw up every morning. I also read about children having to be given medication to calm them down. Imagine that. I felt better reading stories about how families were able to get past the situation.

Ease Separation Anxiety in School Children - Things to Remember

Here are some of the things I picked up from parenting forums and websites:

Separation anxiety in schoolchildren are most likely to occur at ages five to six. I figured this is why Nini did not have episodes in preschool. However, older children may still suffer the same problem. Anxiety due to separation is also common among babies and toddlers.

No matter how much the child begs and pleads to stay home, never give in. Mothers like me know very well how heartbreaking it is to say 'No' to your child. But discipline is an important, albeit challenging, aspect of parenthood. There will be situations that you will need to use a firm hand - such as this.

Stay calm, no matter how much your child kicks and screams. Most days during those first weeks, our daughter resorted to silent mourning, which can actually be worse than kicking and screaming. But there was one day when my husband had to literally drag her out the door and the gate. I'm serious. He told me to go inside, out of sight, because my daughter was begging for me. It was sad seeing them off like that, with Nini desperately trying to hold on to the door posts, but I summoned the courage to go straight to our room and close the door until I can tell for sure that they were gone.

Do not make a fuss. Again, acting non-chalant while your child is right in front of you crying her heart out, is a lot harder than it seems. But it had to be done. After doing my research, I did my best to not scold my daughter for crying. Instead I tried to engage her in casual conversations about ice cream, movies, computer games, the upcoming weekend, and other things not related to school while I gave her a bath and got her ready before school. Sometimes, I asked about her classmates and teachers. I pretended not to see her tears and felt a little better if she gives even a small smile.

Deep down, I would like to just keep her in a tight embrace but sometimes, you need to keep your distance to give the child room to figure things out for herself. She cannot learn to stand up if you are always carrying her. An important lesson in parenthood best learned early.

Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood. To everyone's immense relief, our Nini is back to her normal self. It's July now and I am hoping that there will be no relapses. Waking up at 5AM annoys her still (something she takes after me, and thus, I do not hold against her) but when the warm bath water washes over her, she turns into her bubbly self again and you know she is all ready to face the new day. I'm just so glad it's over.

Did you have any similar experience with your child/ren? How did you deal with it?


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