Should I take my 3-year-old, who has developed severe anxiety about preschool after being perfectly settled, out of preschool until next year?
Q: My 3-year-old daughter started school this year. It went amazingly well in the beginning. She ran off without thinking twice and didn't even want to come home. Recently she has developed severe anxiety and refuses to go, she cries without end, even over holidays or weekends she will burst out crying and be devastated about the thought of going to school. Although her teacher says I should just drop her and leave, in the hysterical state that she is in, I am not convinced this is the answer.
A: It sounds to me like your little 3-year-old daughter suffered a trauma. This not a case of typical separation difficulties. Both she (and you!) separated well back in September when school began. Your toddler sustained a positive healthy separation for many months until suddenly in the spring she developed severe anxiety about separating and specifically going to school. Your job now is to become a detective. It is important to identify the trauma and source of her distress. For example, did the teacher scream at her or at another child and terrify her? Did another child hit or hurt her feelings? Was there a serious illness of an immediate family member that took her parents' attention and focus away from her or evoked sadness or grief? Did she lose her longtime beloved nanny? Explore as best you can to identify the trigger of her regression. Only then can it be treated. You may need the guidance and help of a skilled child psychologist to support your little toddler through processing powerful feelings. I would definitely not pull your 3-year-old out of preschool next year. Depending on the source of her upset and how the school and teachers respond to her may affect whether you decide to keep her at the same school or make a school change. But based on her age and her previous school readiness, she should be helped, perhaps with Mommy's presence in the classroom and support, to be gently transitioned back into a comfortable space. Get professional referrals from your trusted pediatrician.
Answered by Dr. Fran Walfish