It's hard to remember the exact moment my daughter started exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, however it was very apparent to both myself and my husband the first day we brought her to preschool.
When I decided to go back into corporate life after being a teacher for many years, I decided to ease into things by working from home and hiring a nanny. Since my daughter was still an infant, and I was essentially still within the line of sight for most of the day, there wasn't really any separation anxiety on her part or on mine for that matter.
While working at home, I could head into my home office, get a number of tasks accomplished and then steal out for a few little hugs and kisses with my daughter to get us both through the day. I would often take my lunch with her and the nanny at the park, and then finish up the day in my office, knowing that she was just a few steps away.
After a few years, working from home was getting more difficult and I knew as an educator that she needed to play with other children. Her social and emotional growth was so important, and it would only happen if she was in some type of program that allowed her to meet new friends and learn about structure and routine. In school she would learn about the concepts of sharing and caring for others, could be engaged with exciting activities and develop her language skills by communicating with children her own age. We understood everything thing she said, even though to most people, "I want yogurt," sounded like "I aunt logert." So unless we wanted her to grow up needing us an interpreter, we knew it was time for school.
Searching for the best preschool for my daughter was a daunting task. But I finally settled on a program close to home. I had a good feeling about it and my daughter loved the school and was playing with everything she saw in every classroom during our tour.
A few days before school started we starting talking about school with our daughter, how exciting it was going to be to make new friends and how much fun she was going to have meeting her teacher and learning so many wonderful things. We took her to buy new school clothes, a lunch box and water bottle and of course a new pair of sneakers with those amazing Velcro straps. We were all set...at least we thought so.
It was finally that first day of school. Preschool! It was such a big day and for months even years leading up to this moment I had the entire day planned out in my head. It was going to be idyllic and wonderful. Unfortunately, it played out much differently.
That morning we woke up early and I was a bundle of nerves, trying to get everything organized. I wanted to make sure everything was perfect. We needed a lunch, pull ups, extra diaper cream and water bottle. When, we finally made it into the car and into the school parking lot it felt like we had run a marathon. But, we were here, and it was going to be great. However, when it was actually time to get out of the car and go into school, it all went south. My daughter wouldn't get out of the car. She started crying, "No mommy, I don't want to go to school." "I want to stay home with Mommy!" I tried to reassure her that everything was going to be ok. She was going to love school and have a great day. But did I really feel that way, as my eyes also welled up with tears?
I managed to get her out of the car seat and carried her into school. She didn't want to get down, didn't want to look at the teacher, and wouldn't stop crying. As a matter of fact, despite her excitement about school a few days before, she didn't want to have anything to do with school today. She was crying and screaming as if she was being physically tortured. And I, the preschool teacher who had been through this many times before with other crying children, found myself tearing up with her. Fortunately, we were so lucky to have a wonderful caring teacher approach both of us. She asked me if it would be ok if she took my daughter and showed her around the classroom. I handed her reluctantly to the teacher and as my daughter continued to cry, I held back my tears and told her that Mommy would see later after she played with her friends and I walked out the school door.
I could still hear her crying in the parking lot and by that time I was a mess. Hysterical myself, crying uncontrollably in my car. Knowing that I was probably the worst mother in the entire world for leaving her, but also knowing that I was probably the best mother in the world for leaving her. I waited in the parking lot, until every other car was gone and called the school office. The Director answered the phone and told me that my daughter did cry for another 10 to 15 minutes or so, but now they were working on an art project and she was happy as could be. I called the school every hour that day, to check in on her and found that she did ask for me now and then and was weepy a few times during the day, but overall she was calm and enjoying her day.
That day, I admit I did go to pick her up about 30 minutes early...I couldn't wait anymore. My separation anxiety was at an all-time high and I had to see her. Besides, I knew she must have been waiting in the corner of the classroom somewhere, crying for her mommy, wondering when I would be there to pick her up. She was most likely counting the minutes until I came and I couldn't make her wait any longer.
However, what happened next was totally unexpected...
Next Up - Help! My Child Won't Go to School - Separation Anxiety and Preschool - Part 2