Problem with separation anxiety is parents, not kids
I've been a public-school teacher for quite a few years, and with the school year starting soon, I wanted your opinion and advice concerning the problem of kindergarten and even older children throwing fits when it's time for them to separate from their mothers in the morning. Some of the kids in question won't even get out of the car without a full-blown battle. It seems to me and the other veteran teachers I speak with that this problem is far, far worse than it was, say, 20 years ago.
Why are so many of today's kids so apprehensive to leave their parents, and what can we do as teachers to help these parents get their kids into school happy?
Answer: I don't have any statistics, nor am I aware of any, but by all accounts, separation anxiety -- as it's called -- among school-age children is, indeed, far more prevalent than it was in the good old days when adults ruled the world and children did as they were told. Confirming your impression, the people my age (61) I've polled on the subject cannot remember any children having this problem when we were in school.
The problem, I am convinced, is parents, not kids. It's a given that today's parents -- mothers especially -- have far more difficulty separating from their children than did parents of a generation or more ago. This is due in part to the nefarious nouveau notion that the Good Mother does as much for her kids as she possibly can and is at her kids' beck-and-call. The mom who sets her sights on clearing this nouveau "mother bar" is likely to fall short when it comes to helping her kids develop an independent, adventurous spirit and a clear sense of autonomy. Symptomatic of this new maternal mindset is the latest in "Truly Wonderful Mom" fads: sleeping with one's child.
This ill-considered practice, which still is being encouraged by several prominent parenting pundits, greatly increases the chance that a child will fail to learn that separation from mom is not a perilous prospect.
The dwindling use of baby sitters is a related factor. It's not at all unusual for me to hear -- usually from a dad who's lost his wife on the child-rearing merry-go-round -- that a mom has refused for all of the first four years of her child's life to leave said child with a sitter. The fact is, children learn to separate easily by finding out that separation is not an apocalyptic event, and the earlier they learn this, the better for all concerned.
Then there's "stranger danger," which schools and the media have blown out of proportion, contributing in no small way to children thinking that if their parents are out of their sight, the "candy man" is going to snatch them. The fortunate, but largely ignored, fact is that child abduction is not nearly the threat the media would lead us all to believe.
Whatever the root of the problem in any given situation, keep in mind that the mother is as, if not more, anxious than the child. A teacher or administrator who sees a mom having difficulty separating from her child should walk over and say, "I'll be glad to help. In our experience, most kids stop crying the minute they know mom is gone. So just hand him over to me and you leave as quickly as possible. Give us your cell-phone number. If there's a problem, we'll call you. If you don't hear from us in 30 minutes, then all is well." And get the mom out of there.