The summer before he started kindergarten, my son, Aidan, couldn't sleep. We'd put him to bed with a story and a kiss, but he'd pop out of his room so often that we dubbed him "Jack" for jack-in-the-box.
"What's wrong?" we'd ask.
"Do I really have to go to school?"
"Of course," we said. "Everyone goes. It'll be fun!"
By August, his sleeplessness hadn't improved, and he was getting increasingly irritable. "Maybe he's not ready for kindergarten," I worried.
"He'll be fine," my husband, Dan, insisted.
I drove Aidan to the bus stop on the first day of school. When I stepped out of the car, I heard an ominous click behind me: He had locked me out of the car with my keys still in the ignition.
Luckily, another parent who was waiting happened to be a police officer, and he had tools to get the door open. I nearly had to crowbar Aidan onto the bus. When I apologized to the crowd of parents, the cop shook his head.
"I was the same way when I was a kid," he said. "He's just anxious."
The guy clearly knew what he was talking about. Aidan was also afraid of the dark, birthday parties, monsters, playdates, and thunder. My husband and I took opposite stands: I often let Aidan bow out of activities, but Dan declared that he had to "man up," quit defying us, and face his fears. Neither of us had it right. It took us two more years to see that Aidan wasn't wimpy or defiant. He was an anxious child who needed help handling his worries.