Yesterday was my son’s first gym class.
I was both excited and nervous. Why? Although he has just turned five, he has separation anxiety. It is an expected stage in children’s psychological development, typically from 9-24 months. Leo is 60 months. Even I can do the maths. In babies, when parents leave and they cry it can be a sign of a healthy attachment to caregivers. When they are older hopefully children understand that their parent will always come back. It seems Leo doubts my commitment.
Don’t leave me mummy.
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t read the books. And I wish I had trained to be a yoga teacher. I overthink, I berate myself, did he go to nursery too young? Am I crap at being a mummy? Little boy has a stable family life and oodles of love and reassurance…The optimist in me thinks, well this is proof he likes you.
We arrived in town well in time and I parallel parked (badly) without dragon breathing. We went in search of sustenance and to pay a cheque in (a ‘good’ mummy would have brought snacks). With little legs I forgot things take double time (brain swear).
I got to the bank sweating, piggy-backing three stone of grinning child who had got bored of walking after two minutes. A sandwich was purchased. Ham, his favourite. We trotted off to find the gym club with me carrying 4 bags and Leo skipping behind singing to his sandwich. Predictably I got confused, relying on Google maps, chatting to him in my favoured third person. ‘Silly mummy likes to get lost, can you tell me which way left is?’ I sounded like the goddess of calm, inside I was chilly with panic. Being late is a pet hate and I didn’t want him to have to walk in mid-session.
Suddenly I heard a scuffle, bump and Leo gasp.
I swung round, heart pounding, ready to defend against pirates or potential ‘pusher-overers’. My boy was in a heap, holding up his finger. He began to wail. Next to him stood a seagull with said sandwich in its mouth. It took me a minute to decide if it was appropriate to laugh, but his little horrified face had me melting. I scooped him up into my arms, sat on the pavement and put my arse in chewing gum.
A lovely lady ran up, ‘Oh goodness that seagull ate your son.’
She offered him a tissue. I reassured them both, gave him my sandwich, gave the seagull a death glare and reminded myself that kicking it in front of Leo would be setting a bad example. We got to class with two minutes to spare with Leo on the cusp of hysteria.
Cheerily I put him in his shorts and held his hand in line, pointing out the colourful pictures. The instructor said, ‘say goodbye to mummy’. I didn’t know I could not come into class, there was not even a window where he could see me. Fail. His lip wobbled. I panic gesticulated at the man saying, ‘he is new but is very excited about rollypollying.’ Leo clung to the door frame for 6 minutes whilst the man coaxed him in.
Tips for managing separation anxiety.
- It is best to stay calm and be reassuring. Even though you are sweating in your mustard jumper and the anxious rash has started to creep up your ears. Remain cheerful, they are emotional sponges.
- Give them something special, I used to leave Leo with a bracelet of mine. My magic bangle. In gym I give him a lucky kiss to take with him and put in his pocket. He did not look convinced.
- Find something to motivate them. Leo saw an older boy swinging on the bars and did his open-mouthed fish impression. I felt nauseous and old.
- Give your little one time to get used to it. Don’t get frustrated (easier said than done when they are sobbing and holding onto your leg for the 223rd time).
- I should have visited the centre to let him have a look, so he wasn’t going to a strange building. That would have been a ‘good’ mummy’s notion. I got confirmation only a few days before and as we had been waiting 8 months for a place I just mentally high-fived myself whilst my pre-planning hopped on a plane to Canada.
- Don’t linger, don’t stand by the door. Gentle reasoning does not work with Leo. You have to take the ‘drop and run’ approach. My favourite TA in school fireman lifts and tickles him. Good healthy assertion, one of us needs to know what we are doing.
- If you are a wreck, have a coffee or call your mum. Know that in 5 minutes they will happily be playing with toys while you guiltily cry in your car.
Leo’s anxiety is not pleasant for either of us, but it is brief. If your LO’s anxiety is affecting their ability to go to school, sleep alone etc, talk to someone, you are not alone.
He loved the class!
The funny thing is, the day Leo runs off without a second glance, or a wave, I know I will be sad.
Do your children ever get anxious when you leave the, are they starting school soon and you are anxious how they will react, do you have any tips for making them feel more reassured?
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