January marks the beginning of a new school year for Malaysia. For parents whose children are going to school for the first time, separation anxiety can be cause for major concern. Not all children happily skip to class after parents drop them off; a good number of children would cry, cling to their parents, and/or put up a major struggle not to get into the classroom.
Sound familiar? Yup! I know the feeling all too well. I went through this phase with all six children and, I’m telling you, it never gets any easier!
It starts off as a feeling of dread that builds up during that short drive to school as you try to keep a semblance of calm as you navigate the early morning snarling traffic, which peaks when your child goes into major meltdown just as soon as you pull up the school entrance. “Tak nak schooooool! Nak Mamaaaaa!!!!” (I don’t want school! I want Mama!)
Your anxiety mounts as you feel torn between the instinctive need to comfort your child and the need to show up at work on time. Just five more minutes, you promise yourself, as you pull your child aside to hug him and shower him with kisses and promises to be back later. His cries reduce to a whimper and his hands release your clothes from what used to be a death grip. And the moment you utter, “Okay, Mama really needs to go to work now,” the whole wailing and screaming thing starts all over again. But at this point, you have no choice but go so you leave your child with his class teacher, leaving you feeling wretched and awful and a complete failure as a mother, guilt eating away at you throughout the day.
One week later, you go through the same pain and anxiety every single day. For some children, it can take two weeks, a month, maybe even longer.
So what’s a working mother to do??
First off, try to find out if there is any specific reason why your child cries. Talk to your child — young children are usually incapable of making up stories. Talk to his teacher — if your child is too young, he may be incapable of expressing what exactly is bother him. Could someone in class be possibly bullying your child? Is there anything in school that could possibly merit your attention?
If you find a valid reason, you might need to consider a different class, a different school, or maybe even re-think sending your child to school at all, perhaps wait for another year before doing so.
If you find that it’s purely separation anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help ease it, both for your child and for yourself:
1. Children can pick up on parents’ feelings. If we show some sign that we, ourselves, feel separation anxiety, I assure you, they can feel all that anxiety coming from you. So, when you drop your child off, make the trip as pleasant as possible (sing songs, talk about funny stuff, etc.) and do your best to appear calm and okay.
2. As you drop your child off, look him in the eye (squat down, if you have to, like Prince William does) and assure him that you will pick him up later or see him later at home, whichever is the case. It is very important to establish eye contact with your child as you make your promise. Then in the evening, when you pick him up or when you see each other at home, make it a point to remind him of your promise that morning and how you fulfilled that promise. Do this every single day.
3. When you drop him off, don’t prolong the agony for both of you. Drop him off. Do as in #2. Quick hug and kiss. Exit.
4. Let your child bring something extra everyday, like some treats to share with classmates, a special packed snack or lunch, maybe even sneak in his favourite toy inside his school bag (just make sure to label it with your child’s name and to inform his teacher, so that it wouldn’t get lost).
5. Find out the names of his classmates and talk about them at home. On the way to school, mention how those friends are excited to see him and how much fun they are going to have.
6. Maintain contact with the teachers. Find out how long it takes him to calm down. Does it affect him the entire day? Or does he stop crying the moment your car disappears from view? What helped me a lot was WhatsApp — my Little Dragon‘s teacher would take his pic between 30 minutes and an hour after I leave and that image of him interacting in class instead of crying allays any fears or anxieties that might be brewing in my head.
7. Give him some time. Some kids take a week to adapt, some a month, some even as long as two months.
All the best!