When others looked at Kolton they saw a typical 7 year old boy. He was happy, healthy, and energetic. He would sit in class and almost always participate with whatever the teacher asked of him. What others weren’t seeing was the struggle it took Kolton to get to school in the morning. Home was Kolton’s safe spot and that’s where he had the majority of his meltdowns. He had been diagnosed with a sensory disturbance just months before second grade started. This gave me a name to put with his “issues” for the past couple of years. However, it did not give me any preparation for the amount of anxiety, especially separation anxiety, we would go through during the school year.
Separation anxiety is an excessive fear or anxiety that refers to separation from one’s home or an attachment figure. Kolton’s separation anxiety was towards an attachment figure, which was me. Every morning, Kolton would stall getting ready to go to school with anything he could think of – his pants were too small, his shirt was to tight or his socks hurt his feet. Once I finally got him ready and in the car, the tears would start. We would try to talk about the fun things he would get to do at school that day and how I would pick him up from our child care provider’s house as soon as I got off work. However, the closer we got to school the more his anxiety would pick up. Kolton would start to cry, refuse to get out of the car or walk up to the playground without me. For the past two years I would get him out of the car and walk him up to the playground without hesitation. He would never go to play with other children but instead chose to stand next to me holding tightly to my arm or hand. I had no chance to sneak away, believe me I tried! As others lined up in their class lines in alphabetical order, Kolton stood in the back with me still holding on as tightly as possible. After several weeks with little to no success in Kolton’s anxiety separating from me, I decided it was time to turn to others for help.
After consulting with our family doctors, Kolton was referred to see a school based therapist once a week at school. After attending two sessions with the therapist, I went in for an update with the therapist and we worked together to develop a plan to help Kolton. At this meeting, the therapist gave me a list of strategies to try that would hopefully help Kolton with his separation anxiety. That night I sat down with Kolton and discussed which ones to try first and what we needed to do in order for the strategies to be successful.
The first strategy we began was to keep consistent patterns throughout the day. Morning and evenings were the same at home which helped to alleviate some of the anxiety Kolton was experiencing. We also tried practicing separating from one another, developed a goodbye ritual and leaving each other without making an emotional scene. Kolton eventually ended up having the most success with the strategy of having a small stuffed animal which was sprayed with the body spray I used in his backpack. It took several trials and errors but with persistence and patience we found something that worked.
Eventually Kolton was referred to see other therapists outside of school. Some of these were good therapists and some of them weren’t so helpful. Eventually Kolton began seeing another doctor who deals with medication with children along with a therapist who specializes in anxiety, social skills and behaviors. Kolton still copes with separation anxiety, mostly when I have to go away on trips that don’t include him. The reason why he has problems is because his consistent patterns are not in place and he knows I am away from home. He goes through a minor setback; however, when I return he bounces back and life goes back to normal for Kolton.
What I have learned over the course of three years is separation anxiety can begin at any age. Even though Kolton began showing his anxiety at age 7, it can begin as early as birth. It shouldn’t be something that parents ignore. Separation anxiety is a call from the child that something is wrong and that they need help. Consult with the pediatrician or family doctor if you feel your child suffers from any type of anxiety. Parents and providers working together to keep consistent schedules for children is an important key for children with separation anxiety.
Iowa DHS is seeking input on the state's Child Care Development Fund State Plan for Federal Fiscal Years 2019 –2021.