Separation Anxiety in 3yo destroying me with guilt

(20 Posts)
jellywibbling Mon 20-Jan-14 17:45:30

My ds has recently turned 3 and started 15hrs of pre-school which is 5 afternoons a week. The taster session and home visit were brilliant and I was very excited about how much he was going to enjoy it and benefit from it. He has been going to a very good cm 2 days a week since he was 9mo so I knew this kind of setting would be a big change for him (he is still at cm's for those days and she takes him to pre-school those afternoons).

Since day 1, drop-offs at pre-school have been very traumatic with ds becoming extremely distressed when either dh or I take him. He is fine and doesn't cry when cm drops him off. However, he tells me he is sad at school and cries there and begs me to not go to work and to stay at home with him. I have spoken to his teacher and she assures me that he is not upset for long and that although he seems a little 'lost' hé is joining in and playing.

The problem is, he now cries when I take him to the cm as well. The whole walk over there this morning he was pleading with me not to take him and saying he doesn't like it. I know he enjoys his time there, when I pick him up he is always having a great time. But the separation from me is distressing him so much and he is able to articulate this in heartrending terms. I will have to take him to pre-school myself tomorrow afternoon and am already dreading it. It tears me up to leave him when heis begging me not to.

I am tempted to remove him from pre-school and take the 15 hrs with the cm instead (would actually save money then!). However, would I just be delaying the problem? If I start him at 4, will it be just as hard?

Also a big concern is that dc2 is due at Easter and all I can think about is that this will be another huge upheaval for ds. I can't bear the feeling that I have traumatised him by having to go to work (financially necessary, if we could survive on dh's salary I would quit in a heartbeat!). Now I am worried that a new baby will bring about yet more stress and worry. I am having difficulty getting excited about a newborn, all I can think of is the continuing stress and upset we are all currently experiencing.

Every day I either have to drop him at pre-school or cm's and I just can't stand any more heartbreaking goodbyes, prising him off my leg, smiling and being positive whilst he weeps and pleads and then the gnawing anxiety and guilt that plagues me for the rest of the day. It is a huge black cloud over me all the time and I'm so afraid of causing him permanent damage by putting him through this even though I know there are benefits to pre-school, the cm and a new sibling. I just don't know how much more of the guilt I can take!

I know this is a very long-winded post but what I want to know is other people's experience of this kind of separation anxiety, any way of helping him and whether or not this will be worth it in the end!

sallyst123 Mon 20-Jan-14 19:25:44

my little boy (and the youngest of my 3) had terrible seperation anxiety when he started pre school. the staff actually told me it was the worst case they had seen, & i remember having to drop him in last of all the children in his setting so the staff could lock the door, he would scream & cry & bang on the door screaming for me it was heartbreaking & so distressing for both of us, the most important thing is for you to be strong.

you know your child is safe & you know that he does settle down i used to stay in town & keep in touch with the playgroup i used to give him 1 hr ringing the setting every 20 mins & with every phone call his crying would get quieter until i felt it was ok to leave the school gates!!( i have to say i did this for a few weeks)
the playgroup were brilliant & gave me a photo book of him doing his favorite activities to take home & talk through with him the night before he was due in again to remind him that it was fun & he did have a good time there
they also reminded me that however hard it was (& it really was very hard) if i chose to stay with him during the session, or pull him out till he was older i was just putting off the inevitable, & we would have to start it all again just further down the line.
it took him about half the school year until he was completly fine with going in but he did get there & so will your lo
my ds is now in reception & is fine we are still exceptionally close ( so much so a few weeks ago i had flu& his dad dropped him to school,i had a phone call at 10,30 because he was so worried i was poorly & couldnt settle, i had to go to school give him a big kiss & tell him i was fine)
Your lo will be ok just persever it will be worth it and your lo will be fine!!

TheGreatHunt Mon 20-Jan-14 19:51:56

If he doesn't need the preschool then stop and just have the cm. that's what I would do.

I took ds out of nursery a few months after having dd as he was getting upset (he was 2.6). We started at a new preschool when he was 3 and he walked in without a second glance.

jellywibbling Mon 20-Jan-14 20:02:06

Thank you - I think the fact that I've got two totally opposing pieces of advice really highlights the dilemma! It's impossible to know whether pulling him and restarting at a later date would simply be delaying the inevitable or if it would be waiting until he is ready. It's so hard!

I had terrible separation anxiety as a child and it went on til I was quite old (7/8ish) so I clearly remember the anguish I felt when my mum left me anywhere. I cried at school every morning, if she went out in the evening I would hug her jumper and worry that she would die! I know at age 3 he doesn't have worries like that but I hate that I am putting him through this. At the moment Ifeel it's not strictly necessary - he could start pre-school next September but would we just go through this again? And if so, is it better to see it through now? Maybe he will be like me and we will have another four or five years of this - I don't feel like I can stand even one more day of it!

TheGreatHunt Mon 20-Jan-14 20:06:29

He doesn't need to go.

You can start again later once baby is here and you've settled in.

I wouldn't only put up with it if I had to.

Other option is another preschool.

ChilliQueen Mon 20-Jan-14 20:14:12

DS was awful when started play school (same age). Only child, me SAHM. I suppose he didn't need to go... but important for him to meet people and interact. It was only 9am-12. He was fine first 2 mornings. Then it all went wrong! Hysterics completely. Ended up doing 5 minutes there for a few days, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. So he realised mummy was always coming back. Took 3 weeks to build up to the 3 hours. Never looked back. Was fine when started school. He's a sensitive chap, but he knows I'm always going to collect him. The play school told me that once he learned mummy was always coming back, and he was OK on his own at play school he would be fine in the future in any situation. And he has been. Never a problem at school - even though he one of youngest in the year. Hope this helps. I'd stick with it if you can.

jellywibbling Mon 20-Jan-14 20:19:08

I think what makes me want to stick with it is that he doesn't have a problem there when the cm drops him off, which makes me think he is happy to be there. It's just saying goodbye to me which causes the distress. But as that has now triggered distress at being left with cm which hasn't happened for a long time I worry that he is suffering unnecessary anxiety and that the impending arrival of a new sibling will be altogether too much to cope with. Thank you for all the opinions, it's really helpful to hear different perspectives.

TheGreatHunt Mon 20-Jan-14 20:45:25

Have you been talking about the new baby a lot? I suggest you stop unless he asks. We didn't mention new baby at all unless others did (in front of ds that is) and casually introduced her when I got home from hospital. It was a bit bumpy after that but now they're absolutely great together. So do ease off on baby talk - its not the same for him as it is for you.

jellywibbling Mon 20-Jan-14 21:41:20

He is very aware of the bump! I don't know how much he understands that a baby will actually be emerging from it! I agree that soft-pedalling it is a good idea. He likes the idea of 'baby brother' in theory but it must be a very unsettling concept for him so I will be careful talking about it.

Flowerpup Tue 21-Jan-14 08:16:54

My DS is 3 and he could have started preschool with the free 15 hours this month. I knew he would be so distressed that I'm not sending him until sep (will be 4 two weeks later) and I figure he can have a year before reception. I maybe delaying the inevitable but he's young for his age and I feel another 9 months may help. It's completely up to you, if he's not getting the benefit of preschool because he's too upset then maybe up the CM and start him in Sep when he's used to his new sibling too! Good luck and hope he turns back to his happy self soon!!

Suddengeekgirl Tue 21-Jan-14 08:32:34

Watching with interest. Dd is currently doing the same when I drop her off at playgroup. She's 2.9yo so doesn't need to go but I know her well enough to know that we would have the same problem whenever she started. confused

Goldmandra Tue 21-Jan-14 10:28:22

A few months can make an enormous difference to a child's emotional maturity. A year is one third of his age which is an enormous difference in development. You aren't necessarily putting off the inevitable. He may very well be better equipped to cope there this time next year.

He was already separating from you and going to a setting where he was happy and settled. There is very little that a pre-school can add to that. He doesn't need to be in a group setting at this age at all.

He may not be expressing his sadness while he is there but he's telling you that he is experiencing it quite clearly. If this was just about separating from you he wouldn't have been happy at the childminders.

I don't think he could be communicating any more effectively that this is the wrong thing for him just now. I would listen to him.

jellywibbling Tue 21-Jan-14 10:39:09

Thank you. I didn't predict how challenging a group setting would be at this age, perhaps because he was well settled with the cm and I thought he would enjoy pre-school. I have agreed with the teacher to see it through to the end of this week and if no improvement, I want to take him out. Dh wants to stick with it and see it through but he is more confident than I am that ds will settle and enjoy it. He has had one successful drop off though, which is one more than me!

In retrospect, I do wish that we had decided to start him at age 4 and think this would have been better for him. I think we would still have tears at drop-off, I think that is his nature but agree that it would still probably be later at an older age.

jellywibbling Tue 21-Jan-14 10:40:08

better at a later age!

AmIIndecisive Tue 21-Jan-14 10:45:37

I would persevere if he is enjoying it once there, what you don't want is to send him once the baby is born as he will think you are sending him out of the house so you can be at home with the new baby and that will make it worse. Understand it can't be easy with him pleading but hopefully it will get easier so by the time the baby comes there will be no resentment.

Goldmandra Tue 21-Jan-14 11:04:19

what you don't want is to send him once the baby is born as he will think you are sending him out of the house so you can be at home with the new baby

That shouldn't be a problem as he would be with the childminder if he wasn't a pre-school.

I agree that it isn't a good idea to send a child off to start pre-school around the time a new baby arrives.

awwwwmannnn Tue 21-Jan-14 13:39:14

my DD (3) started nursery last Tuesday. I was in bits as I was so nervous for her, plus her speech isn't great also but she can say enough to get her point across and its getting better all the time.

The 1st 3 days the teacher had to prise her off me and take her into the class, it was horrible, I cried!! Then on Friday we were on our way to school and she was saying "lets go, lets go school and have fun with friends" and she walked in by herself and just got on with it.....I had a big thumbs up from the teacher (which made me feel like I had done something great lol)

she had one accident and I was worried sick thinking it was going to happen all the time but it was literally a one off, she had a skirt on and wasn't sure what to do with the skirt on the loo and after flapping she went herself! I put her in trousers the following day and she was great!!

it broke my heart to see her struggling to settle in when all the other kids were running in so happy - now she's happy and running in and I'm gutted because she's not clinging to me anymore hmm

anyway, give yourself and him time to adjust. its a whole new setting for little ones and so much for them to take in. they've gone from being the centre of everyone's universe to being one of many and having to learn a new routine.

the teachers have dealt with this scenario a hundred times over and know what they are doing, but do not be afraid to ask questions of them to find out what is going on.

good luck to you both xx

omama Tue 21-Jan-14 21:54:07

My DS started pre-school just before the summer hols, so going back in September was like starting all over again. We've had some really traumatic drop off's with them having to peel him off me screaming & crying 'mummy don't leave me...mummy I want you...' Gulp. You'd think after 2 years of the same at nursery I'd be hardened to it but it still tugs at the old heart strings every time.

The CM takes him one day/week & like your ds he doesn't cry for her. Why it makes a difference I don't know - sometimes I just think its to make us parents feel guilty! The staff say he settles very quickly once I've gone & he always comes out smiling at the end of the day, telling me what a nice day he's had, so I just try to focus on that.

My DS starts school this September, so I haven't got the option to delay his pre-school start for another year, & I feel that for him, the benefit of getting to know his peers now to ease his transition into school, outweighs the tears.

On a practical note, DS is very sensitive & gets overwhelmed very easily by crowded / noisy group situations, which doesn't help at drop-off time. So I try to take him after most of the other parents have dropped their kids off, so its less hectic. He seems to cope better that way & gets much less anxious. He also takes a favourite teddy as a comfort item, & we're finding if the staff can engage him in conversation when we arrive, this puts him at ease. Last week he went in with no tears for the first time smile

How long has your DS been going OP? If its very recent, it may be worth hanging in there a while longer - its a huge change for him from being at home with you 3 days/week to suddenly having to go every single day, and it may just take some time for him to adjust to the new routine. If he's already had one successful drop off, it may not take too long.

If he continues to struggle, could you see if pre-school would be willing to work with you to gradually phase him in? We did this with DS - started with an hour & gradually extended it to a morning, then added another morning, then we worked on gradually extending him to 2 full days. Or would another option be to reduce the number of days he goes, but put him in for a full day instead of half? i.e. instead of 5 afternoons, do 2 or 2.5 days? That way he could still have some mummy time with you?

Hope you manage to come to an arrangement you are all happy with.

jellywibbling Wed 22-Jan-14 13:10:37

First tear-free drop off today! I told him this morning that if he managed to do a big smile at school, I would bring him a present when I pick him up. We practised our 'happy face' all the way there so by the time we arrived he had been grinning and laughing out loud for the whole walk which had put him in a good mood anyway and when he did a big beam at the teacher she made a lovely fuss of him. He didn't cry at all, just chirped 'see you later!' I spied on him through the door and he still wasn't upset once I had gone so feeling a bit more optimistic!

Suddengeekgirl Wed 22-Jan-14 14:07:30

Aw well done! smile

My dd was better yesterday too. She howled all the way there and then stopped as soon as she saw her key worker! shock hmm

She's still clingy there but I think it's getting better. smile

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