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From separation anxiety to a separation celebration

August 28, 2015

My daughter started kindergarten this week. When I shared the obligatory first-day-of-school photos, many friends and family members commented that they couldn’t believe how big she’d gotten.

Could it be that this baby is now a kindergartener?

Yep, she’s a kindergartener. And she is ready to take on the world, which has surprised me a little, to be honest.

I’ve written before about the struggles we’ve faced with separation anxiety over the years. Last year as she headed to preschool, she was nervous about starting a brand new school, and there were several mornings in the beginning of the year where there were some tearful goodbyes.

In the days and weeks leading up to kindergarten, I expected a similar response. After all, the transition from a small, private preschool to a bustling public elementary school is a big one. I kept waiting for her to express some type of hesitation about the impending start of school, but nothing came.

A few days before school began I asked her, “Are you nervous about starting school soon?”

“Um, no,” was her matter-of-fact response.

I still wasn’t convinced.

The first day of school rolled around, and we drove up to school in the car line (which I have learned takes an eternity on the first day). Our turn came up eventually, and a teacher opened her door. My girl unhooked her seatbelt, grabbed her backpack and hopped out of the car.

“Bye, Mom. Love you,” she said.

“Bye. Love you. Have a great day!” I said.

She walked with the teacher into the cafeteria, and I watched her in the rear-view mirror as I pulled away. She was happy. There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation. And to my surprise, I didn’t hesitate either. There was no crying, no sadness. This was a day we had been anticipating for a while, and she rocked it.

I couldn’t help but feel as though this kindergarten send-off was a success in many ways. Perhaps success isn’t the right word. There really is no success or failure in this, right? I simply mean that it was an example of how she had overcome some personal challenges, and I feel that is worthy of a celebration. Shall we call it, a separation celebration?

I thought I’d share with you some things I’ve discovered as we’ve dealt with this challenge of separation anxiety. You may find that these are helpful things to think about, no matter what challenge you’re facing with your child.

Here’s what I’ve learned along this journey with her:

Challenges aren’t forever

I’ve realized that when your kid faces some kind of difficulty, it’s easy to pigeon-hole them into that problem, as if that problem is just part of who they are and who they’ll always be.

Kids change. They learn. They may always tend toward a specific type of challenge, but they may not. There will be hills and valleys in this parenting journey, but if there’s one thing that is true of kids it’s that they are always changing.

Take heart, one day’s problem may be gone the next.

Success gives way to success

I believe the biggest reason my girl was excited to start kindergarten has to do with the wonderful experience she had in preschool. She started school at a young age (not quite 2 years old), and she learned early on that school is a place where you are loved, you are cared for and you get to do really fun things.

Sending her to school wasn’t always easy, though. When her little brother was born, she struggled, and I let her spend more time at home with me. Starting a new school for VPK was hard, too, but we didn’t let the fact that it was hard deter us from doing it anyway. Because once you allow your little one to face the hard things and they experience what it feels like to overcome those challenges, the fear they feel as they face obstacles diminishes.

Success in one situation gives them the feeling that they might be able to succeed in the next hard situation.

Don’t let fear of failure make decisions for your kid

Often, we decide on the path of least resistance for our kids because we’re afraid they might not be able to handle the more difficult road. So we tell them, “I don’t think you’re ready for that,” or “maybe we’ll wait one more year,” to give our kids a better chance at succeeding in their particular area of challenge.

However, I think choosing the more difficult path and communicating to your child, “I believe you can do it,” or “It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to do our very best,” is often better. When you hold them back for fear of failure, what they hear from you (even though you never say these words) is this: “I don’t think you can handle it. You just don’t have what it takes.”

Have faith in your kid

I truly believe in the power of giving your kids the opportunity to rise to a challenge. Let them see what they’re made of. They might surprise you (and themselves). And even if they struggle or make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. There is incredible value in learning how to get back up again once you’ve fallen down.

We may not be at the end of the road with separation anxiety. Who knows? We may have tears in the car tomorrow morning. But it’s really okay. I’ve learned that kids are capable of far more than we realize.

Whatever the next challenge is that comes our way, we’ll face it. We’ll figure it out together, and then we’ll move on.

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