Separation Anxiety - a Self-Preservation Instict
My twin boys had a very difficult start to pre-k.Day after day I had to go to school with them and stay for an hour or so. Three weeks later I gave up and officially withdrew them. They had only turned 4 in August, but had they not been premature, they would have been entering at age 3 and not turning 4 until October.
I assumed they just weren't ready to separate from me, although they seemed ready for the class once they would start to participate. I struggled so long, unable to decide what was right for them. Finally, I determined they just were not emotionally ready. I though I would pull them out until January and then try again. The plan was to give them some time to overcome the terribly negative association they were making with school. I was afraid, and the principal agreed, that this could set them up with a lifelong hatred of school. She agreed with me about taking them out for now.
I wasn't going to give it more than a two day trial in January before making my decision. If they didn't go easily I would not continue the negative reinforcement. I was finally content with my decision. It felt like the right thing to do. I sent in an officil notice of withdrawal. About 10 days later the principal contacted me to let me know that the district said they can't hold the spots open and that if other children apply they must accept them. Additionally she relayed the message that next year they would not be allowed to attend pre-k and would have to start kindergarten instead.
This defeated the whole purpose. The only reason I was ever even considering pre-k is because here we have full-time kindergarten. I would never subject them to the trauma of going from being with me 24/7 to suddenly having to go to 6 hours of school a day! And, if they were having trouble separating for 2 hours, how would they ever handle 6 hours?
I decided to abandon all the input from everyone around me and just rely on my insticts as a mother, as I have always done. They have never steered me wrong. Although I kept being told to just drop them off and let them cry a few minutes (which resulted in the school calling 10 minutes later saying I had to come back and get them!), and I shouldn't "hover over" them because it was "reinforcing their feelings of fear", or an incompetent teacher saying "you can go now Mrs. Rysher, the boys look fine" - which would result in them leaping back into my lap, and "This is MY classroom! If I let YOU stay I have to let all the other parents stay" when no other parents had a desire or reason to stay...it went on and on.
Although I turned to many people for help, it seemed there was nobody in the district competent enough to help my boys through this. It was as if nobody had ever seen a child with separation anxiety before!
Well, after the principal's call, I decided to ignore everyone and go back to my insticts. After 2 weeks "vacation" I told the boys that we were going to go back to the school just to watch - just to see what the kids were doing. I removed all pressure from the boys. They were quite interested in this! I brought them in and I told the teacher we were just there to observe. I gave no indication that I had any desire for them to go in. I just spoke to them gently, I snuggled them, I spoke about what the children were doing. After a little while Squeak wanted to join the class! I let him. I stayed in the hallway with Pip, observing. Then we left, just the two of us. The next day, the boys requested that we go visit the school again, "just to watch"! I eagerly obliged them. Squeak went in pretty quickly but Pip did not. Again, we left and went home. I was doing some things around the house, and an hour later, Pip came over to me and said, "I want to go to school now". We went. We spent about 15 minutes in the hallway outside the room watching. He was very nervous. I asked him if he was scared and he said, "Yes.". I told him that it was ok to feel scared but that I knew he could do it. He inched closer and closer to the door. I suggested he take off his coat. He said no, but that he wanted to take off his backpack. I told him that was fine, but that he'd have to hang it up in the closet with all the other children's backpacks. He agreed and inched closer to the door. He was still afraid to go in. Again I reassured him that I understood that it was a little scarey but that I was confident that he could do it. I told him that Mrs F (the assistant) would help him hang it up. He started in. She came right over to him. They hung it up. The teacher was reading a book to the children. It caught his interest. He stood there, on the mat, next to the other children, listening to the story. Then, a wonderful thing happened... he sat! He stayed. He was content.
It was mid October and all that time nothing was working. My way, following my insticts, despite all the prior negativity, took a mere 2 days!!
I just had a conference with the boys’ pre-k teacher. She told me that the boys are starting to raise their hands to volunteer for things, and we see that Sqeak seems to be showing some bit of artistic talent. In casual conversation she said that she had never had children so late into the year dealing with attachment issues. But, do you know what? I think that is a wonderful compliment! Yes, sure she hasn’t seen it because she never had children that were so properly attached to their Mama; attached the way nature intended! Most children aren’t attachment parented. These children have had the natural bond broken, often in infancy! Many children are used to being left with strangers, left to cry themselves to sleep at only a few months of age, and consistently pushed to be independent! It takes decades for humans to become independent… often not until they have graduated college! And children in our society are pushed to be independent from the moment they are born. So of course when it comes to going to school there's not much bond left to “overcome”! This teacher has probably rarely encountered a child that was truly naturally attached to his/her parents, the way nature intended them to be. How sad.
The moment she uttered the word “attached” it instantly all became clear to me. It just isn't natural for a 3-4 year old child, in a natural tribal situation, to be left by the mother. Yes, the mother might go out picking berries for a while and the child is left with the tribe, but it is amongst people it knows and loves - not left with some other strange tribe, like the tribe of classmates it never met before! It goes against the child’s nature and they have every right to be terrified and want to fight it! It's a self-preservation instinct.
My boys wouldn't detach from me because it is unnatural to do so. Their instincts have been well nurtured and are thriving, as they should be. These natural, self-preservation instincts wouldn't allow them to separate from me unnaturally. They have this strong bond, well developed. This proves that I have been doing everything right with them – mothering the way nature intended! They have a wonderful normal, healthy attachment!
The proof? I've never ever had a problem with leaving them with my in-laws. I'd even get into a little squabble with my father-in-law when I'd be walking out the door because I would insist on letting the kids know "Mama is going now" so they wouldn't suddenly realize I'm gone and become upset. He would tell me to just sneak out because he'd be afraid that they'd get upset that I was leaving. Guess what? They never ever once shed a tear when I left when they were with "their tribe"!!! They'd even come running to give me a kiss! But this school thing is totally unnatural - nature did not program children to be away from their "tribe" at this tender age!
This is, of course, why trying to sneak out of a classroom doesn't work and actually has the effect of making children more upset. You are working against their natural instincts. I ended up doing it all my way, letting out the lines and reeling them back again like a skilled fisherman. I gave them the space to go when they would edge forwards yet gave them the loving arms to run back to, and words of encouragement to support them when they needed it. Now they are soaring! They go into school each day happy and excited and lavish me with kisses and hugs before they go in.
When they come out I am always waiting there, squatting down to their height, with open arms and a warm smile. They come running to me and tackle me with hugs and tons of kisses and huge smiles! Our bond is unbroken, intact and healthy, they way nature designed it.
I am sooo proud of them and so proud of myself for sticking with my instincts. Yes, these same instincts that that never let me allow my babies to cry themselves to sleep, or cry to be nursed, still scream in my head to not allow them to cry tears of abandonment. My instincts to support them and let them know I'm there for them 100% worked beautifully. As soon as I stopped listening to the people who made me feel I had to prematurely push them, and did it 100% my way with nurturing, encouragement, and removing any sense of pressure to go, they suddenly turned around and had the confidence and security to venture into the new world of school.
Following my heart via Instinctive Parenting has never failed me and I will never stop listening to these wonderful instincts. Nature *is* perfect and will never steer us wrong. We have to look no deeper than our own hearts to know what is right for our children.
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