Motherhood is part creating attachment and equal parts detaching, ever so lovingly – at JUST the right time. Today I witnessed a beautifully executed loving detachment, made possible by a mutually strong attachment. This miracle happened because I used a incredibly simple (and effective) solution to end separation anxiety.
I look into his big hazel eyes. The eyes that usually sparkle with love and mischief are filled with tears and anxiety. They (not so) quietly plead for me to NOT make good on my promise of leaving after our hug. His arms are wrapped around my neck, in a desperate attempt to continue the closeness we once shared for nine intimate months. His freakishly long legs somehow become tangled with mine, as I try to (lovingly) pry him off me.
The Big Morning!
Today is THE day. It is the day we have worked towards for several weeks. We have done all the “right things”, followed the unwritten rules of “preschool acclimation and drop offs” – even gone above and beyond – all in an effort to get Jansen (4) ready! Today he will spend four (painfully long) hours away from his home, surrounded by a random collection of (snotty nosed) four year olds, a caring teacher and professionally selected age-appropriate toys.
[bctt tweet=”End #SeparationAnxiety with this simple #ConsciousDiscipline tool. #MomLife @ConsciousD”]
The morning shapes up to be another colossal failed attempt at preschool drop off. Jansen screams, stomps his feet and even growls, none of which surprise me. But while he is thrashing and expressing his feelings, his little hand is clutched around a laminated strip of paper. He clings onto the strip as if it is a winning Powerball ticket, and to him it is just that. The plastic wrapped paper is his connection to his world, his heart – his mama.
The Simple & Brilliant Solution!
Two weeks prior, I had attended a Conscious Discipline parenting class. I happened to mention Jansen’s high separation anxiety and my concern about his impending preschool start. The instructor, Ginny Luther, brilliantly reminded us that children need to know what to expect, especially from unfamiliar situations. Predictability breeds comfort and reassures an anxious child. She explained how morning routines run smoother when children know what to expect, and are visually reminded with magnets or stickers showing what tasks they need to complete to get ready. And then she shared the most ingenious schedule… which I replicated to the best of my ability.
The schedule was a simple strip of pictures, sequentially showing the various activities that the child would experience during the school day. The most important pictures were the first and last ones, of the child and his mother. This showed how “mommy gives you a hug goodbye… and after these events mommy comes back and gives you a hug!”
This is Jansen’s schedule, complete with a sticky arrow he can move from task to task as they happen. I found most of these images in Google, on his preschool’s website and then of course there is a recent selfie of Jansen and me.
I have a copy of his class’ daily activities, which allowed me to make the schedule very detailed. The schedule was laminated for durability. I had two extra ones made, which I keep in his school bag, in case an emergency replacement schedule is required.
To make this schedule I used PicMonkey.com – a free photo editing website. It is easy to load the images, edit and then save and print.
Jansen’s schedule, as he explained it to his dada:
“Mama takes me to school and gives me a hug”, “center time where I play with blocks”, “snack time with muffins”, “circle time with Ms. Stephanie”, “centers again where I play with blocks”, “yoga class in the movement room”, “outside on the playground and THEN MAMA PICKS ME UP!”
Jansen kept the schedule in his hand the entire day. His teacher referred to it, especially when he started to feel discouraged and sad. Together they reviewed all the things he had done and the fun things yet to come. He loved his schedule, as it was a constant, visual and tangible reminder of my imminent return. The laminated schedule was our substitute umbilical cord, giving him the love that he needed to step out into the world without me right next to him. I picked up Jansen promptly at noon, or “after playground time” according to his schedule.
His hazel eyes once again sparkled, now with pride and happiness. His arms wrapped around my neck again, but this time without desperation, but rather with warmth and an unconditional love. He pulled away after a while only because he had so much to tell me about his day. He talked non-stop all the way until bed time, sharing stories from his day, singing songs that he had learned and telling us about his class’ upcoming egg race.
Today we gained an independent preschooler. We watched Jansen grow before our very eyes. His transformation would not have been possible without a solid foundation of closeness, trust and attachment – and a little laminated piece of paper.
For more brilliant parenting ideas and inspiration, I highly recommend my two favorite parenting books!
“Easy to Love, Hard to Discipline”
herchel scruggs says
I wish I had known about this when Piper was in preschool. We went through two years of her screaming every time I left. (I would peek in the room window and see her playing and smiling a minute after I left, though.)
It was stressful to say the least.
Gingi Edmonds Freeman says
This is brilliant! My toddler does not have separation anxiety.. yet… but I will have to keep this in mind! Thanks for sharing! – http://www.domesticgeekgirl.com
Allison Lindstrom says
Tove, I got all teary reading your story! James is younger than Jansen but it is the same story. Drop offs at any place, with anyone, for any amount of time are just awful. This printed schedule is a great idea. I’ll definitely be using it!
Mama in the Now says
You definitely need to make one, it takes 5 minutes on Picmonkey… the best 5 minutes I ever spent! 🙂
Brilliant! Those drop offs can be rough. I love the visual strip to show him exactly what to expect. And yes, that routine and predictability helps so much. So glad to hear it went well!
Mama in the Now says
It was like flipping a switch in him – and now he loves school! I have never seen anything like it before.
Those are referred to as “social stories” and are used with children with autism. Or rather, PEOPLE with autism (I use verbal versions of these with my husband who is on the spectrum). They are incredibly helpful.
Mama in the Now says
Thank you for sharing – I love that they work with adults on the spectrum too.
I love this. I’m totally going to do this.