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My now three-year-old has never been away from me ever since he was born. Nope. Not even a sleepover at his grandmother’s place without me by his side. It’s been him and us (me and my partner) all his life. So last week, he took that big step of going to summer school and as everyone expected, the clingy little boy experienced separation anxiety and wouldn’t let mommy out of the room without a fight.
I’ve been waiting for this day since we enrolled him in March. I finally wanted him to experience life outside of our home and interact with people other than the ones he’s used to seeing. I believe this should help build his social skills because he’s kind of like us – introverts – and several times I’ve heard him say, “Mommy, I don’t like people.” It’s okay Kai, Mommy doesn’t like people, too. Oops!
But really, I know the importance of having Kai around people, which is why I got excited about his first day of school. Not technically a full school year but it’s the first class he ever attended.
After I happily prepared his food bag, we drove him to school. His cousin/bff Venice tagged along because she wanted to be there to witness that big moment. And witness she did. She saw how Kai whined “I want Mommy” no matter how much I tried to get away from the room. But even the teacher (she’s nice BTW) said it, it’s hard during the first to the third day of school.
I did get out the first time and only a few minutes after, I heard a loud cry so familiar. So Kai. Yes, tears streaming down his face and his mouth wide open screaming for me. Yikes! Didn’t think first day of school would be this stressful. His cry lasted long and I got worried. He hasn’t cried like that in his life. That was a first. And I constantly wondered what he’s up to that day. He’d settle down for a bit but a few moments later, he’s crying again.
I turned to my virtual support, a.k.a. moms online – real-life friends and virtual friends. What I learned is that someone else had it worse. I remember someone sharing her experience with her son who would always vomit as a result of separation anxiety. The adjustment phase lasted for a month. Others shared they had the same first day problems for weeks. The point is that this is perfectly normal and I had to learn that too.
So if you are a new momma and dealing with the same problem, I’ve got some advice – from one new momma to another.
- Be strong – I’ve been told this many times. Be strong when your child cries. Hearing Kai’s cries crushed my heart but then I thought that he had to learn and realize that I can’t be around 100% most of the time. I tell you, this is going to be really hard. Oh yes, it was heartbreaking for me, considering I’ve never heard him cry that loud with longing. But your child eventually needs to know that it’s okay to be without Mommy or Daddy once in a while and that by the end of the day, you’re still there to welcome him with hugs and kisses. It’s also one way of letting your child know about negative feelings and giving him the opportunity to deal with it and learn to work through it.
- Be calm – Your child can sense your worries so you might want to do your best to remain calm. If you’re too anxious about the whole preschooler thing, he’ll pick up on your vibe.
- Go to school early – Kai and I went to school on the first day 5 minutes before 9 a.m. and I realized we should’ve gone earlier to give him time to warm up to the surroundings before Mommy leaves. Now, we go earlier and he has time to cry before the start of class. It was really bad on the first to third day – the teacher was right. After a week, things are much better, although he hasn’t completely stopped with the crying. He still cries but only when I leave. The teacher does a great job at calming him down each time.
- Connect and trust the teacher – We hear stories about teachers secretly being mean to kids but we can avoid that by connecting with them and getting them involved in your child’s life. I really find it hard to trust people nowadays but I kind of don’t have a choice but to trust the individual who is experienced and trained in dealing with kids in this situation. Every day after school, we talk briefly and I ask her about Kai’s progress, like his socialization and his performance in school. Because I told her Kai loves drawing and coloring, she now knows how to get him to settle down when I prepare to leave him behind. My child’s preschool teacher may not meet my expectations but she is that person who’s willing to help my child deal with his separation anxiety – and for that, I’m super grateful.
- Keep goodbyes short and sweet – I’ve read about this way before Kai started pre-school and I remember this well. When you say goodbye, say it and don’t prolong the moment. Doing so might just reinforce his negative feeling about the preschool. At the same time, don’t sneak out and disappear without letting your child know. Say that goodbye and leave promptly.
- Comfort objects – Some advice to let kids bring comfort objects from home to remind him or her of the good things. Large stuffed animals may not be allowed but small toys and objects he can keep in his little bag would be enough. Kai didn’t have comfort objects – he had comfort boobs, my boobs, and I can’t give them away, can I? Lol.
- Don’t compare your child to other kids – You might see kids not batting an eyelash if they’re left behind by their parents. Some parents would also go on and on about how proud they were they didn’t have problems with separation anxiety in preschool. But remember, don’t compare your kids to others. I am guilty of this, I admit. There was an instance I told Kai, “look at (insert kid’s name) he’s not crying when his Mommy leaves” and I realize I shouldn’t have said that. First-time moms tend to compare themselves and their kids to others and they end up frustrated. We don’t really have to because what we should keep in mind is that this is normal. If you feel like you’re the only parent who’s dealing with this, then let me tell you — you’re not alone. There are many of us who have this problem. It’s part of being a parent. Some are just lucky they didn’t have to go through the trouble that comes with separation anxiety. Just remember, the child eventually outgrows it. It can take weeks, months – it depends and as a mom, we have to remain patient and strong through this.
Remember, this is all a phase. Pretty soon, your child might not need you anymore. So cherish these precious moments while they’re young.