Q: I've been a public school teacher for quite a few years, and I wanted your opinion on 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 won't get out of the car without a full-blown battle. Other veteran teachers agree this problem is far worse than it was 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 parents get their kids into school happy?
I don't have any statistics, 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. The problem is parents, not kids. It's a given that today's parents – mothers especially – have far more difficulty separating from their children than 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 is still 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.
Whatever the root of the problem, keep in mind that the mother is as anxious as the child, if not more so. A teacher 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.