I have been struggling for a while with my little girl. She cries everyday when I leave her for Kindergarten. In fact, she cried all summer at the thought of starting Kindergarten. Since birth, spending time away from mom has been very hard on my daughter. She worries about things that many young children don’t seem to think about. For example, this year, on the first day of school she asked her brother, “Are there lots of hard tests in Kindergarten?” Knowing my daughter’s nature, I insisted that preschool was very important for her so as to introduce her to the idea of being away from me for hours at a time. She spent three years in part time preschool. Each year, she took at least 6 months to adjust (to stop crying and appear somewhat happy in the classroom).
The school is amazing and the teachers are very loving. I know because I volunteer there and my older son attends the same school. Alhamdullilah, my daughter performs well academically and makes friends easily. That is not the problem. She tells me very clearly, “I miss you and I do not want you to go. The teachers are nice and we do fun things in class but I cannot be happy because I miss you so much.” When she is away from me, she displays a significant amount of anxiety in the form of tears, stomach aches, withdrawing from others and having a somber disposition. At home, she is full of life, singing, laughing, drawing, playing and endlessly bothering her older brother. Yet, when she is away from me, her behavior is so different.
I waited and waited for years to see if she would be able to work through it with time, a supportive school environment and lots of encouragement from home. At home we speak about Allah always being close to her and to take care of her, reciting Qur’an morning and evening and making special dua. We talked about stories of the prophets and how Allah SWT protected them from harm and comforted them when they were sad. While she actively listens and participates in these activities, it did not seem to carry through in her time away from mom. After a few months of continued anxiety, I sought out formal advice from her pediatrician and another mother whose child also suffered from “separation anxiety.” We discovered that the American Psychological Association has a wonderful workbook for children ages 6 to 12 years called “What to Do When You Worry Too Much – A kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety.”
The workbook starts off talking about plants and what they need to grow. Then it moves into describing a “worried thought” and how that worry can grow inside of us and make us feel sad or sick. Later it describes how to take the worries out of your mind, think and do more relaxing games and activities. It helps the child to use detective thinking to decide if the reason for worrying is necessary. It also encourages the child to stay healthy and strong in mind and body. The children draw pictures in each chapter to express their feelings or show how they are chasing the worries away. This workbook helped my daughter to understand what she was feeling inside and gave her an action plan on how to manage her worry.
She still cries most mornings when I leave her for Kindergarten, but now, it only lasts a few minutes and she smiles a lot during the day. I also promised to come have lunch with her once a week and to volunteer in her class on Wednesday afternoons. It’s during art class, her favorite subject. The teachers have been very supportive, and she is slowly improving Alhamdullilah. I am very grateful that Allah SWT guided me to resources that are helping my daughter work through a significant life crisis. I am also reading another step-by-step parent’s guide on “Helping Your Anxious Child” by Doctors Rapee, Wignall, Spence, Cobham & Lyneham. From this book, I am learning a lot about myself and how to better manage anxiety. It is important that my children see and hear how I work through an anxious moment so that I can be a role model for them. No matter how young our little ones may be, as parents, we need to learn and teach our children how to work through their problems to prepare them for the next stage in life.
I was inspired to write this piece to raise awareness about children with excessive anxiety. I wanted to share with others the approach we took to help our daughter with lessons from Islamic teachings, consulting professionals and working with school staff. For us, research was necessary to learn further strategies to assist our child in a difficult situation. Issues like, anxiety, shyness, phobias, etc. have a significant impact on a child’s personality, the choices they make, and the activities they avoid. As parents, sometimes we hope our children will just “grow out of it”, but when they don’t we need to take an active role in helping them to learn to manage the issues.
As I was writing this piece, I remembered the Qur’anic story about Maryam (may peace be upon her) while she sat under a tree enduring child birth pains. She was instructed to shake the tree for the dates to fall. I was told by someone who knows palm trees well that there is no way a woman after childbirth can shake these kinds of trees to get them to drop their fruit and therefore the Qur’anic message is all about the point of the human being making effort and leaving the results to Allah (SWT). I hope that you will share your experiences/advice about little ones that worry too much.
Sharda is a Canadian born mother of two young children. She has a keen interest in learning to foster leadership, self esteem, and empathy in young children. She works part time as a Physical Therapist.