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Kindergartner with separation anxiety

My daughter is five, and  has been thru a lot for such a little girl. We lost our house right  before she turned 2, living in hotels for about 6 months until finally moving in with my family (where my older school age daughter lived so as not to disrupt her schooling)& where we've been now for a little over 2 years. The living situation is cramped, 7 people total, grandma,my dad, my uncle, her dad & us.

We, (including my 14yr old) unfortunately sleep in the living room & have no privacy what so ever. We've also had 2 serious hospitalizations of my grandma, which she eventually recovered from&is now fine. My mother also passed away of breast cancer last year in which we were around her a lot helping her & other 93 yr old grandma who she lived with. I don't think she really understood how or what kind of sick my mom was, so it was confusing for her when told why we would never see Nana.  As well, that grandmother moved right  after my moms death without us saying bye to move w my uncle across country. She does ask about them or repeats what we have told her about the situation every now & then but I'm unsure of whether it may be something that effected  her although  it isn't shown. Last but not least, she has never been away from dad,sister, or I accept once recently. It's was w a somewhat new to her close friend & her kids (older-8&10) in which she did fine. Other than that, she shies away from people (more so with kids her age) she doesn't know. Won't talk to them, look at them, avoids them at all cost. At home or with  people she knows she is completely different...vibrant, funny, laughing, playing, joking, non stop blabbing, & craves center of attention.So in Oct or Nov Last year she started school as I was going back to school as well. She was in a head start preschool where she did cry a lot at first then eased in a little making friends having fun & while not crying anymore when being dropped off, she seemed to stick to her teacher a lot. Never napped but latest there like she was suppose to.

By August she was very  popular & had lots of close friends . Then in September she started kindergarten. We talked about it with  her, took her shopping for a backpack & such, &she seemed excited except about leaving her friends (mind u these were the first friends she had of her own & the only real socializing w hers peers she had ever had.) She did surprisingly  well for her Kindergarten assessment in which she went off with  the teacher alone.  Although she did cry & cling to her dad in fear during that. She stopped preschool Friday & started Kindergarten  the following Tuesday,so it was a very sudden transition but we were afraid of her being worse if we gave her a break in between. So 1st day in Kindergarten she hung onto dad, having to be pried off screaming. I do think she was little thrown off by having a different teacher & classroom then who assessed her & where orientation was held. That was 4 weeks ago & she still cries all day,at drop off,even in middle of night, mornings of school & on Sundays when she's told there is school tomorrow after asking all weekend. It's very heartbreaking & we feel helpless. Tried hanging out w her at school in morning before class, which didn't help tho she continues to ask if we will every morning on the way to school, in which we end up not having time to bcuz she resists& cries instead of getting ready. Sometimes she cries & stresses out to the point of throwing up before leaving the house.

Tried talking to her & all she says is that she can't stop crying cuz she misses mommy & daddy. I tried to explain & talk w her on that but it doesn't help. I tried explaining the consequences it will have crying instead of participating,doesn't help. I tried spending more time w her at home yet allowing her to do more things she's able to do herself that we spoil her usually by doing. Nothing seems to help. I just started a big star chart where we broke each day into 3 parts & for every part she doesn't cry she would get a star (then we made origami stars for her to choose from each having a reward on them once earned (she chose what rewards to use). All weekend I mentioned the stars as would she w the rewards she could earn w excitement. Then today at school she was so bad that they had to send her out of class into another K class (the original teacher/classroom she expected) in which she still cried.


I know she's learning bcuz she comes home w her books f school & reads them to us (the pattern,flow,sight reading) & have noticed improvement each night. As far as I know it is California law for 5yr olds to be in K. But I'm starting to question whether she's socially & emotionally ready yet? I get the feeling that having structured/scheduled time vs play/free time is a big change that she's not accepting & that she's having a hard time adjusting to sharing one adult w all the other children vs 1 on 1 attention (BTW-she hates younger kids/babies...completely ignores them, I assume due to the attention they steal from her!). She's also doesn't have the social skills I think to work with a group, on independently for that matter. All I know is that we are to our knees in stress & don't know what to do or how exactly to react to her in a constructive way for the situation. I feel guilty, disappointed, failing as a parent, and completely helpless as I don't want to see my child going thru this. She is fine as soon as we leave school but even after u can tell the effects of it wearing down on her as well.

Any suggestions,advice,resource,or insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for even taking the time to read this.

Answer.

Hello and thank you for sharing this lengthy description of what is happening with your child. I am so sorry you are both struggling so much.

I have some thoughts about what might be happening. It definitely sounds like separation anxiety.
Kindergarten can be a big transition for kids and your child has had some stress at home for sure that has made her life right now challenging.

Here are the suggestions I would make.

We want to convey to your child these messages:

You have confidence that she has the skills to navigate Kindergarten and handle her anxiety.

Even if it's uncomfortable or scary you know she can do it!

She can learn to be brave when the anxiety shows up!

Any rewards we give her are for those positive behaviors not the negative ones so, for example, the chart was a great idea but...
"I just started a big star chart where we broke each day into 3 parts & for every part she doesn't cry she would get a star" ...... Then today at school she was so bad that they had to send her out of class into another K class (the original teacher/classroom she expected) in which she still cried."

What we want to reward her for is brave behavior.

Also,we want to understand her behavior through the lens of anxiety, in fact we don't want to call it bad behavior at all. I don't like the way the school is handling it either.

So we need to get an idea of her worries, and each time she does something different than her worries tell her to, she gets a sticker.

"That was 4 weeks ago & she still cries all day,at drop off,even in middle of night, mornings of school & on Sundays when she's told there is school tomorrow after asking all weekend. It's very heartbreaking & we feel helpless. Tried hanging out w her at school in morning before class, which didn't help tho she continues to ask if we will every morning on the way to school, in which we end up not having time to bcuz she resists& cries instead of getting ready. Sometimes she cries & stresses out to the point of throwing up before leaving the house."

When I read this I think we might want to focus on getting ready with in five minutes like a brave girl will earn you a star.

One of the things that can feed separation anxiety is giving a lot of attention to the negative behaviors and not enough attention to the positives. So I would focus on generating a list of behaviors that would be moving in the right direction and re-frame those as positives and start rewarding those with stars or stickers or even just praise!

Additionally, I hear a lot of distress from you. I feel like you could really benefit tremendously from some support. Parents need help to understand their child can TOLERATE discomfort in order to get better from their anxiety. You also need to learn to tolerate your child's. anxiety A good therapist can really help you with this.

I hope this has been helpful for you. Sharing your story I am sure has helped so many parents in similar situations.

Thank You
Kristen McClure


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