Don’t leave me! I want to stay with you!

Chester Raccoon stood at the edge of the forest and cried.

“I don’t want to go to school,” he told his mother.  “I want to stay home with you.  I want to play with my friends.  And play with my toys. 

And read my books.  And swing on my swing.  Please may I stay home with you?” 

Excerpt from The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

I will never forget my school counselor years in Maryland, especially a second grader who refused to attend school.  His mother enrolled him into public school half way through the year.  The little boy was home schooled and never even went to preschool.  He spent most of his first days with me.

I vividly recall him picking up my phone, shaking the receiver in the air.  “For the love of God, call my mom!” he screamed over and over.  Even though he made progress over the week, his mother decided to home school.  Again.

Both of my kids experienced separation anxiety when beginning preschool.  It was not expected of my daughter.  She was a social butterfly who talked to EVERYONE!  I left preschool a few times in tears, even though I knew they would be fine in a few minutes.  I could hear my son crying and screaming for me as I walked down the hallway.  Before I reached the door, his crying always stopped.  This went on for an entire month, but then he ran into school every morning.  He was excited to be there, trusting that I would pick him up after lunch.

Separation anxiety is typical for preschoolers.  It is also typical for a child, who is grieving a loss, to suddenly develop separation anxiety.  A parent or caregiver should be concerned if the anxiety significantly interferes with the child’s social, academic, or physical needs.  A phone call to the child’s pediatrician would be required at that point.

There are a few ways to help a child with separation anxiety:

1.  Remember the word “QUICK.”  Make a QUICK exit after a QUICK good-bye.  (I am guilty of this mistake!)

2.  Read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  Trace the child’s hand onto paper, draw a heart, and then kiss.  Cut it out and place it in the child’s book bag.  You could also attach it to your child’s book bag with string.

3.  After reading the book, kiss your child’s hand and place a sticker or temporary tattoo on the spot.  Remind your child that the love never goes away.

4.  Reassure the child of the pick up time after school.  (Right before lunch, after lunch, etc…)  Don’t be late!

5.  Tell your child that YOU will be okay when he or she is at school.  I was paged to the office on a spring afternoon before the start of kindergarten.  My assistance was needed to calm a girl who was having a HUGE meltdown as her mom was attempting to leave.  For the last few days, she was refusing to attend school.  Mom was completely confused about her behavior.  I managed to bring her into my office to find out what was happening.  Mom waited with the principal.  It turns out that she was worried about her mom.  Apparently, she was recently sick.  The girl worried that something would happen to Mom when she was at school.  After asking her mom to talk to us, the girl discussed her feelings.  Mom reassured her daughter that she was better, then I walked the girl to class.  No more meltdowns ever again!

6.  Have your child give YOU a “Kissing Hand.”  This is a morning ritual before school in our house, even if we have a crazy morning getting out the door on time.  It gives me a peace of mind knowing that we said “I love you” to each other.  One day it will be me experiencing separation anxiety as I drop my daughter and son off at college.  Hopefully, it will be a driving distance away.  But if not, I will be kissing their hands and asking if they remember our morning ritual.  My kids will probably laugh at my silliness, but deep down in their hearts, they will love the reassurance.  Our love will last forever.

Chester took his mother’s hand in his own and unfolded her large, familiar fingers into a fan.  Next, he leaned forward and kissed the center of her hand. 

“Now you have a Kissing Hand too,” he told her.  And with a gentle “Good-Bye” and “I love you,”

Chester turned and danced away.

Excerpt from The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

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