Extreme separation anxiety — The Bump
Pre-School

Extreme separation anxiety

DS is ridiculous with separation at schools and I am going crazy.

He is almost 3 (end of March). I worked from when he was 4 months to when he was 17 months. DH worked 3 day weeks during that time and we had a nanny those 3 days. We didn't have any great daycare options around and he didn't do well at the one we tried. So when DH had to get back to work full week, I quit my job to study for a board exam (changing careers).

We have done a bunch of Mommy & Me programs since then. I'm done with my test and looking to go back to work but he has serious separation anxiety. We have tried 3 different separation programs and he is so upset when we tried them, he cries uncontrollably and often throws up. At the last one we tried which was a gradual separation, I was there with him and he still cried - probably because he knows I'll eventually leave.

I know he just needs a little pushing because it takes him time to get used to new places and people, especially in the school setting. But I can't find a program willing to put up with him. First one couldn't deal with the vomiting, the next two were concerned about the other kids getting upset from all his crying.

I'm at my wits end. His doctor says it's just a phase I have to wait out - no other suggestions offered. But I need to get back to work.

Anyone have any suggestions? Desperate!

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Re: Extreme separation anxiety

  • I had the same issue with my 4 yr old. I was home with her for the first 2 years and then she stayed home with my mother until 3 when I decided to put her in preschool, I started her slow with 3 half day programs but it was a nightmare every drop off. Hysterical crying from the moment she woke up until they ripped her out of my hands at school. It took 5 months for her to finally except that no matter what she was going and I was going to have to leave her there. She now goes full time and while it sometimes is difficult she comes home and tells me she had a good day. Unfortuntly you just have to be consistent with it and a good teacher is key. Good luck, it is a difficult and devastating to see them go thru it but it will eventually pass. 
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  • My son went through a really tough phase with this at right around 3 -- right when he started preschool.  It was awful!

    Here are some things I did to help:

    --send him to school every day that he's not too sick to go, and use the same routine every time.  Try to get there a little early.  My son is shy/sensitive, and it was hard for him to enter a room full of busy kids already playing.  

    --talk positively at home while you're getting him ready to head out.  Anticipate what fun things he'll do at school, and how soon you'll be back together.  Keep it light.  I found that if I rattled on about this, sometimes it made him worse.

    --spend some time "playing school" with stuffed animals or action figures. Have him be the teacher. Act out a scenario in which one of the pretend "kids" is upset when it's time for mommy to leave.*

    --encourage him to pick one activity/toy he really loves that can always be his "go to" thing as soon as you say goodbye.

    --read books about preschool.  My son is older, but we had a great book called "Blue's Prechool" which covered some typical preschool "dilemmas" that might cause anxiety.  The child reading the book was encouraged to help Blue solve her dilemma.  Another good book is "The Kissing Hand." 

    --make drop-off as speedy as you can without being harsh.  Don't linger.  Say goodbye in a positive, cheerful voice, hug, and go.  Don't look back. 

    It took a few weeks before he stopped crying at drop off.  Honestly, though, he was sad and stressed about it for several months.  He would have a good time at school, but he still dreaded the moment of saying goodbye.  He eventually just outgrew it. 

    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

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    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
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  • imageneverblushed:

    My son went through a really tough phase with this at right around 3 -- right when he started preschool.  It was awful!

    Here are some things I did to help:

    --send him to school every day that he's not too sick to go, and use the same routine every time.  Try to get there a little early.  My son is shy/sensitive, and it was hard for him to enter a room full of busy kids already playing.  

    --talk positively at home while you're getting him ready to head out.  Anticipate what fun things he'll do at school, and how soon you'll be back together.  Keep it light.  I found that if I rattled on about this, sometimes it made him worse.

    --spend some time "playing school" with stuffed animals or action figures. Have him be the teacher. Act out a scenario in which one of the pretend "kids" is upset when it's time for mommy to leave.*

    --encourage him to pick one activity/toy he really loves that can always be his "go to" thing as soon as you say goodbye.

    --read books about preschool.  My son is older, but we had a great book called "Blue's Prechool" which covered some typical preschool "dilemmas" that might cause anxiety.  The child reading the book was encouraged to help Blue solve her dilemma.  Another good book is "The Kissing Hand." 

    --make drop-off as speedy as you can without being harsh.  Don't linger.  Say goodbye in a positive, cheerful voice, hug, and go.  Don't look back. 

    It took a few weeks before he stopped crying at drop off.  Honestly, though, he was sad and stressed about it for several months.  He would have a good time at school, but he still dreaded the moment of saying goodbye.  He eventually just outgrew it. 

    These are all really fantastic tips.  My DD has a tough time with separation anxiety as well, so I can commiserate.  How long did you try each program?  It took DD a good 4-6 weeks at her school before she stopped being hysterical when I left.  She's gone through periods since then where separation is difficult again.  I think finding the right teacher that is willing to work with you and your DS is key.  I can understand the vomiting part would be tough to deal with, but a good, experienced teacher should have experience with extreme separation anxiety.  On her first day of school when she was 2.5 years, one of the teachers ended up holding her the entire time.  Since then they have always been good about calming her down and getting her involved in an activity.  My DD is 5 now and is a shy kid prone to anxiety, but in general her separation anxiety has improved as she's gotten older.  Good luck!

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  • My almost 3 1/2 yr old DS acts the same way. I was home with him until 17 months, then my mom watched him. He has been going to Prek M,T,W and F since the fall.  You would think the teacher was killing him when she gets him from the car line.  I feel so bad for the teacher.  I am so hoping he grows out of it before next fall.  But I am going to take some of the advice on here.
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