Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers/Sudden Severe Separation Anxiety


My now 3yr.10month old daughter started a preschool (not daycare) two days a week on Tues. & Thurs. in September 2012. I teach her at home in addition to what she learns at school because she already knows everything currently being taught. I realized school was more of a social outing for her, but still wanted her to attend. Everything was fine, she loved going to school, and could not wait for the days in-between to pass so she could go again. Fast-forward to the end of January / beginning of February 2013 and she has sudden separation anxiety to the point where I am called to come pick her up. Literally,on Tues. she was fine, then that same week on Thurs. she became inconsolable and I had to rush to her.  When I ask her why she is crying, she only says that she "wanted mommy" or "needed mommy". The school is accusing me of having "problems in the home" because her "case" is "SO SEVERE". There was one day when the teacher was absent, and only the aid was present. My daughter noticed this right away, and the aid thought it was "odd and weird that she noticed the teacher being gone right away when none of the other kids did". The school claims this is a part of her "problem" - her perception. Nothing has changed routine wise in our home. She is in a very loving and stable environment. I have read through several Q&A's here, and have tried giving my daughter a picture of me to have at school, read "The Kissing Hand" and even gotten the stuffed animal to go with it, as well as showing her what time I will be back to get her on the clock. It all has not helped her, as the school has asked that I not bring her back because she is "disrupting the other 3 year old's and making them cry" as well.
I just want to help my daughter. The school wants me to send her to a psychiatrist because she "obviously has a severe case of separation anxiety that needs controller meds". I do not want to medicate my child for something like this, especially based on their "diagnosis". I have also been told that if I do not "fix this now" she will develop "severe anxiety issues" that will be "bothersome to her for the rest of her life." But my daughter only does this at school. Not at home. Any other time she is fine - when I leave her with grandparents, siblings, go grocery shopping, etc.  I do work from home, and it is just her and I while her older brother and sisters are at school. When I am home with her She knows mommy works from home and while I am in my office she will practice her lessons, paint on her easel, or play her educational games on one of the computers.  Is there any way I can get my daughter to tell me why she is all of a sudden needing mommy so much when she is at school? I have asked her out right, but she just tells me that she needed/wanted me. I do not want to take the advice of the school and put her on medication. It is now March 2013, and I was hoping it would be okay to start school again in the fall of the year, but it seems I do not have the support of the school for that, as they think it best if I wait until she is 5. I just feel like I am failing, but I know I can help my daughter through this. I just wish I knew what happened /what is troubling my little girl. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Hello Mary Ellen,
 Save us from the "psychiatric experts" at your daughter's preschool!
 Yes, your daughter did develop separation anxiety. Yes, it perhaps is upsetting to the other three-year-old children who get concerned about her crying. But, referring her to a psychiatrist for medication is a bit much! And to say that she will develop a life-long anxiety condition if you don't follow their advice is completely absurd! No one could say that what she is experiencing now at age three is not going to go away!
There is no obvious reason for her development of separation anxiety, however, it is not necessarily related to her home life. It is very unlikely that it is a "psychiatric condition." It is separation anxiety. And the origin is unknown. That is often the case with childhood conditions. They tend to come and go and it is often next to impossible to figure out why they developed -- or why they disappeared.
It certainly sounds like you did everything possible to help minimize the condition. There is no reason why she can't go to preschool later this year. It might not be that one. In fact, I would suggest you should find a new one.
In the meantime, since she doesn't show separation anxiety #or any other kind of anxiety# in any other setting, there is no reason for professional help. She seems like a well-adjusted young girl -- except for the anxiety about being away from you on school days.
I would suggest that you stop asking her why she needs to be close to you. She probably doesn't know and even if she did probably wouldn't be able to articulate the reasons for her new-found separation anxiety. It's much better to just continue to provide her a secure and loving environment. And then in the fall, start her back in preschool.
Any questions?

James Windell  


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James Windell


I can answer questions related to normal child development, disturbed behavior and how to provide appropriate guidance and discipline.


I've been a clinical psychologist in a juvenile court, worked in school settings, been a child psychotherapist in a private psychiatric clinic and consulted with schools, courts, hospitals and daycare centers.

American Psychological Association
Michigan Psychological Association

I have been a columnist with the Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI) for 21 years writing a weekly column called Coping With Kids, which is also published weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been a mental health columnist with the Detroit Free Press and a columnist for Working Mother Magazine. In addition, I have published articles in professional journals. I have published 16 books, among them are "8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child" (IDG Books), "Discipline: A Sourcebook of 50 Failsafe Techniques for Parents" (IDG Books); "Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes" (IDG Books), "What You Need to Know About Ritalin" (Bantam Books) "6 Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" (John Wiley & Sons), "The Fatherstyle Advantage" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and "Defusing High Conflict Divorce" (Impact Publishers). My latest parenting book (2012) is "The Everything Child Psychology and Development Book." Articles about my work with parents has appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. My website at includes more information about me, my books and includes many columns I've written.

B.A. in Psychology from Wayne State University
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University

Awards and Honors
Best Educational Program by Juvenile and Family Court Judges Association (National award for the development of a parent training program for parents of delinquent teenagers. Beth Clark Service Award from the Michigan Psychological Association.

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