When Our Kids Had Separation Anxiety, Here’s What Worked

toby goddard Williams

Nowadays, Anton and Toby give us quick hugs before heading into school — no drama — but when they were younger, for the first couple weeks of each school year, they would beg, sob, and cling to me until I had to literally peel their fingers off my body. And, every fall, I see a handful of other kids doing the same thing. Even if they love school, that morning drop off can be brutal. Nothing sadder than your child desperately reaching for you while you walk away with a smile plastered on your face, like, “Bye! I’m definitely not dying inside! My heart rate is totally normal don’t worry about it!”

Through the years, I tried different strategies — listing all the fun school activities, sending them with Daddy instead of Mommy, making the goodbye quick and upbeat, reading The Kissing Hand — but none made a huge difference. Until…

One morning, as we approached his school, two-year-old Anton teared up. But instead of giving him a pep talk about the day, I decided to focus on our reunion afterward. “Anton, will you read a stack of books with me tonight?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said, sniffing.

“Are you sure?” I said. “I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to cuddle and read with you. Do you promise you will read with me???”

“Yes!” he laughed. “I promise!”

And, amazingly, he climbed out of his stroller, patted me goodbye, and toddled into school.

I couldn’t believe how well it worked, but it also made sense to me. By asking your kid to promise to hang out with you, you position yourself as completely reliable — you will definitely be there! Also, you’re giving them the power — since YOU are asking THEM — so instead of feeling out of control, they’ve become decision makers. Talking about the evening also reassures them that 1) school will end, 2) you will reunite, and 3) you will once again be happy together. It all feels very safe and certain.

Another example:
Toby: “I don’t want to go to school, I want to stay with you.”
Me: “Well, you do have to go, but do you promise me you will play blocks with me afterward?”
Toby: “Okay.”
Me: “Do you promise? Please please please?”
Toby, laughing: “Yes! I will, Mommy!”

Thoughts? Have you done this before? Anything else that helps with separations?

toby and anton

toby and anton

P.S. A surprising way to stop tantrums, and how to help a stoic kid open up about feelings.

(Photo of Toby from this post.)

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