Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
My 5-year-old son has been in preschool for 5 months and loved it until recently. Two weeks ago he decided he didn't want to go anymore. I know nothing happened there because I looked into all that, and his teacher is a good friend of mine. He also doesn't want to go to Sunday school anymore. He keeps telling me he is too afraid to be by himself and that I have to stay with him. I have been sitting in his classroom trying to get him to like it again. If I leave the room for any reason he cries. I tried to leave him on his own today at Sunday school, and told him I would wait for him out in the hall. I left while he cried, but, when his teacher walked over to him, he screamed horribly at her and kicked the door really hard. He was very disruptive, so I took him home. He is having some type of separation anxiety, and I don't know how to get him out of it. I need advice on how to handle this situation. I can't sit in his room the rest of the year, but he will be uncontrollable if I don't.
Dear Please Help,
It is unusual for a five year old who used to love his preschool, to all of a sudden not want to be there. Separation anxiety normally occurs before age 3, usually before age 2. However, any out of routine event can trigger separation anxiety. Is there anything stressful going on at home such as a new baby, divorce, new home, or anything that is not your son's usual routine? Is there anything "new" at the preschool or Sunday school, such as new teachers, new students, new pets?
When at home, have nice sit down talks with your son, and try to get him to open up about what is bothering him. Let him talk about his fears.
If you are positive that the preschool and Sunday school are fine and that they are nurturing environments, then you need to stop bending to his tantrums and reinforcing them.
Do not sit in his classroom any more, do not take him out of the classroom when he cries, and do not act worried or anxious when you leave. Simply tell him firmly, but nicely, that you will be back, then give him a hug and kiss, and leave. Your acting sad or anxious when you leave or returning when he cries only reinforces his anxiety at being left as well as his control over you.
However, after you have tried all of the above for a week or so, and he is still very anxious, cries, and has temper tantrums when you leave him at the schools, then you might need to have him seen by a child psychologist.