The Anxiety Monster


Kindergarten is killing me. I can’t really even blame it all on kindergarten. Bug’s stressed out about things like this before. There was that one time when she was so afraid of getting a shot. She spent two days hyperventilating over it. And then it was over and she was a champion. She was so proud of herself. Her smile with tear-stained cheeks broke my heart. She’s so brave and yet so stubborn and sometimes she lets her fear get the best of her.

I hope forcing her to go to kindergarten today works the same way but it rips my heart out pushing her forward into the teacher’s care when she is crying like that. Her teacher is sweet but has a no-nonsense snap-out-of-it approach and I worry that it won’t work. I remember my roommate in college telling me about the years and years of everyone telling her to snap out of it and she couldn’t. I don’t know what to think or say. What is normal? Is this normal little kid anxiety or something I really need to worry about?

I always worry. Sometimes I wish I could just keep her next to me forever. Before school, I hug Bug. I hold her until the bell rings. The other kids run past us laughing and swinging their giant back packs. I squeeze her. I spout off every pep talk I can think of and I’m pretty good at pep talks. We pray. We make up songs about being brave. Her boots are made for walking… I made sure she got enough sleep and ate a good breakfast (even though every bite was a battle). I don’t know what else I can do. I don’t know how much of this anxiety she is suffering from is normal kid stuff and how much of it is my fault for breaking up the family that she knew. Of course I will always blame myself. Even though when I made the decision to leave I made it because I thought it would be better for her. I knew this year was going to be hard. And it is.

Pray for Bug today.

UPDATE! Prayers work fast. I picked her up early because that is one of the options if she doesn’t want to stay for lunch and she was all smiles. I think the noisy time in the cafeteria was part of her stress. She told me that if I pick her up early every day she won’t cry anymore. I’m sure there will be more hard times but I am so relieved to have my happy kid back. At the time I wrote the post above it was after three days of crying and I thought it would never end. Thank you for all your kind words and prayers. So many good ideas too. I feel much more confident to handle this. xo


  • Ashley

    We will totally pray for Bug today! I too have an anxious little girl. Not about school right now, but it’s only preschool and it’s only 2 hours. But she gets anxious about so many other things, she’s afraid of doing it wrong – although we never ridicule her, she’s afraid of kids laughing at her – although it’s never happened. It’s heart shattering when all you want to do is shake them and say “GET A GRIP!” and pull them close and say “It’s ok, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to ever, because I’m here” all at once!

    We’ll be praying for you both today!

  • Katie

    Praying for Bug and praying for you! I had such bad anxiety as a kid and one day in high school I actually had a panic attack while we were watching a movie in class. I had to go to the hospital and everything and it was painfully embarrassing. My mom didn’t do much about it (and I still suffer from anxiety and depression), so kudos to you for trying to find answers while she is still young! I don’t have much advice, but love, love, and more love always seems to be the right answer when there is no right answer in sight. And you are pretty dang good at that, so bravo! Anyway, sending good thoughts and prayers your way today : )

  • Yara

    I’ll pray for Bug; and for you, that you can figure out what’s going on & for you to have strength & wisdom to help her.

  • bethany actually

    I think you know, in your heart of hearts, that you cannot blame school-related anxiety on the changes in your life in the past year. If you were still living where you were a year ago, there would be anxiety caused by the tension and her parents fighting and you being so brittle with stress that you’re about to shatter. She would be missing her cousins and Auntie Heather and Uncle Shawn, because that part was totally out of your control anyway. And there would most likely be school-related anxiety at a different school, too.

    You said it: Bug is a worrier, and she lets her fear get the better because she’s only five years old. You’re doing the right things. You’re making sure she’s well-rested and well-fed and you’re encouraging her and praying for her, and asking others to pray for her too. You won’t see changes right away, probably, because Bug is stubborn and resistant to change, but she WILL get better.

    I’ll pray for you too. :-)

  • Emily

    I am praying for Bug today! I put a little tag of something (think keychain thing) on my son’s backpack. It is actually a little bible verse. Just a little visual reminder that he is never alone.

  • Heather

    My oldest is the same way, but she is getting better. Last year in PreK there was a day when my husband went with me to drop her off at school. Everyday up until that point had been painless, but that day she clung to him like a spider monkey. There was crying and clinging and protests galore, but her teacher took her into her arms and told her it would be okay. I, on the other hand, cried the entire way back to the house. I was way more traumatized by it then my daughter was. This year in Kindergarten there have been a few days when she cried and wanted to stay with me, but we both get through it. It will get better! <3

  • NicoleT

    I was totally like this as a kid. And I couldn’t just “snap out of it” because it was just in my nature. The trick is trying to teach her coping skills. Talk about why she is anxious… talk about what makes her feel the OPPOSITE of how she is feeling, and see if she can bring/wear/think about something that will evoke that feeling for her.

    And always remind her that no matter how icky something is that “this too shall pass” as my mom always reminded me. It made it easier to deal with anything.

  • Christine

    Oh, honey, I’m so sorry school is hard for Bug. That’s so hard for you too. I think Bethany is totally right, and that it’s better for her this way than it would have been the other, so not to blame yourself at all for that – you did the right thing for you and for her. But in the meantime, ugh. My son hated going to school for the first two weeks – he locked himself in his room on the second day and we had to take the handle off the door to get him out. The first morning in school, after I finally left him, he stayed under the desk for two hours until the teacher finally told him she was afraid the desk would fall on him and he had to come out. But now he’s fine and he’s having a great time – he’s just cautious and takes his time to adjust to new situations.

    I have a friend whose daughter went through a much longer, more stressful adjustment period when she started kindergarten and even now in 2nd grade, had a hard time starting in her new classroom this year. Some kids are just like that, and you teach them your coping tricks and you cry and you pray when they’re gone and I hope that in the end they come out stronger for it all. Hugs to you both.

  • Jenny Greene

    Definitely praying for Bug today (and her mama, too).

    A few weeks ago, I was feeling pretty sad and anxious myself — and unable to get my mind to shut down long enough to go to sleep. I somehow happened upon Bug’s twitter stream and remember lying there in bed with my phone, laughing and smiling at the cute and funny things she says. It was just what I needed to calm down, and lift my spirits. Thank you for that.

    I liked Emily’s suggestion. Is there something meaningful you can give to Bug that she can keep with her throughout the day? Sometimes the little things like a keychain (or Twitter feed) can be so comforting and make a big difference.


  • Gabs

    i left my husband in May and I have a 7 year old 2nd grader who is going through severe separation anxiety as well at school. We each have her every other week so she sees both of us regularly.

    i know exactly how you feel. my little one (an only child) is usually happy, strong and confident, but once we get to the door she loses her cool and weeps. it absolutely breaks my heart. i’m in therapy, my ex and i are in couples therapy, and now my little one will be starting this afternoon (her first appt!) to try and work through this.

    she’s afraid noone will pick her up from school and that we’ll forget about her (neither of which has ever happened). no amount of reassurance, sticker charts, printed schedules for her desk, photos, or mementos (like wearing a piece of my jewelry) has helped.

    My therapist threw this out there for me: YOU left her dad – what would stop you from leaving her?


    Now does this apply to YOU? Not necessarily, and I don’t bring it up to be mean. But it’s something to think about – something bug may be thinking too?

    It was the right decision for me to leave (as it sounds like for you too) and I just hope she can understand that when she’s older.

    Parenting sucks sometimes :)

  • gingermog

    Hi, I’m so sorry Bug has anxiety. I was thinking along the same lines as Jenny if there was anything you could give her to hold on to throughout the day like a magic necklace. I’m still kid-less so I can’t pretend to know any answers but I am trying to think back to my own Kindergarten days. Is there anything/body there who may have said something or acted unsettling that Bug can express? When I was little even the bigger kids using the lavatory at the same time as me was scary. I do remember school is so radically different from home life, other kids doing random things, shouting, crying, disagreeing with you, pushing when the teachers back is turned or making you feel left out etc it does take a while to get used to. I feel for you both. xx

  • Lorey

    I have two children, now 12 and 15. Both had anxiety about going to school, and both were pulled from my legs more than once, crying hysterically, by a teacher. This happened in Kindergarten, and on isolated occasions a few years later. I went home and cried and cried and prayed and wondered what I could do. By the way, I am a preschool teacher and have been on the teacher end of this behavior many times as well. I will give you both points of view in hopes that it helps you and Bug in some small way:

    As a parent, it was comforting to know that my kids were always “okay” after they had calmed down, and after school it was as if nothing had happened (although I, on the other hand, was emotionally wiped out!) I have had teachers call me mid-morning to let me know that my child was much better after the morning tears, which helped me a lot. Not sure if Bug’s teacher would do this, or if you could even intrust another assistant or office worker to keep an eye on Bug and keep you posted on days like these. We have moved a lot and my son was the worst with his anxiety. When we started him in his third elementary school (this was 4th grade), he had a very hard time going to school. I started to pray with him in the mornings, asking God to watch over him, to walk next to him each and every minute and to keep him calm. It helped, and he started looking forward to the morning send-off prayer. We would even add little funny additions to the prayer to break up the seriousness of the moment (please God, let there be a yummy lunch with chocolate cake) I would even suggest sending her with a little something in her pocket that would remind her that you are thinking about her and how proud you are of her. Maybe a special rock, a teeny stuffed animal, or even a note.

    As a teacher, I always read The Kissing Hand at the beginning of every school year. If you haven’t already, read it to Bug. I would make sure that those who didn’t want to leave Mom had something special to do once I got them out of their parents sight- helping me with something, or doing an activity that they liked. It is easier to pull a child off of Mom like a band-aide, otherwise emotions get piled higher, but Bug might also benefit from knowing exactly how the morning is going to go. Outline each step of the routine up till you say goodbye so she knows exactly what is going to happen, and she may be comforted in actually staying on routine. Such as “I am going to walk you in, then I will kiss you on both cheeks, your lips, and your forehead, and we will knucklepunch, and then you will go in and check on the classroom fish for me, or go find the book that we bought for the classroom and look through it, etc. It would be SO helpful if the teacher would assist you in a plan like this. Maybe even ask her if you could buy a simple pet or plant for the classroom, and then Bug would have something to relate to in the classroom, and it would be something to take her mind off of leaving you.

    I am writing from my heart, and I hope this doesn’t sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. I will pray for you and Bug, and also pray for Bug’s teacher, because she needs to be as much a part of this as anyone. Hang in there. Pray. God has this. God has this.

  • Trinidad

    Praying for Bug and for you. I wonder sometimes how much of my son’s anxiety is due to the fact that I’m not brave enough to leave yet.

  • ioi

    Having something tangible really does help them get past their fears. My kids watched an animated Pilgrims Progress once and when Christian and Hopeful were in the Dungeon of Despair, they discovered that Christian had a key – the promises of God – that would ulock any door. So, when I have an anxious little one (it doesn’t matter what is causing the anxiety), we sit down and come up with some of God’s promises that fit the situation i.e “I will never leave thee” – afraid of being alone, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” – afraid of being forgotten, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” – afraid of no one caring, “I will guide thee with mine eye”- afraid of not knowing what to do etc. Then I take a ribbon and an old car key (any kind of key works – that’s just what I have around here) and we put a ‘promise’ (a key) on the ribbon and tie it into a bracelet to wear as a reminder of the promises we can rest in. It works from nightmares to school terrors. And Mama, there’s promises for you too. :)

  • MintTea

    Oh poor you and poor Bug. I offer first a funny anecdote, because sometimes you gotta laugh when kindergarten gets you down. My middle son also cried every day during his first month of kindergarten. Normally a happy, wisecracking kid, he would dissolve into sobs once the bell rang and the kids began to line up. After a month of this– when I was really at my heart’s end in coping with it, his teacher pulled me aside and said she was going to have to call it quits to the “hugging” routine. Turns out that every morning, his classmates would line up to give him a hug to try and calm him down and reassure him. It was getting “a little disruptive” his teacher admitted. I was floored. OF COURSE THE KID CRIED EVERY DAY! Who wouldn’t if the payback was to start the day with 20 hugs from his friends! So I told him, “the hugging thing buddy– that has to stop”. He sighed and said “Yeah, I figured you’d say that one of these days”… and he never cried again. :)

    I offer that not to diminish what Bug may be going through, but simply to say that five year old’s are such complex creatures, but the world they see is sometimes frighteningly simple. Bug is coping with some kind of transition-emotion, and you are right there with her. She needs to learn the life skill of overcoming her fear. As long as you know she is safe in school, and that it is objectively the best place for her, then all you can do is help her learn how to cope. You sound like an amazing mom, and your own emotional honesty probably makes her feel free to express that anxiety with you, every day. My mom was absolutely terrified to go to bed when she was 7, but was too afraid to tell the grandmother raising her because she knew she would just get in trouble for complaining. I am glad when my kids tell me how sad they feel or how afraid they are. Bug trusts you completely. You are doing things absolutely right when you earn such a level of trust. I am cheering for you both.

  • Cindy

    I have been following your blog since May 2008, when you posted about watermelon cookies. Your blog was actually one of the first I ever followed (I now follow MANY more) and it is one I feel the closest to. I have never commented on any post. The only interaction I have had with you in the past is when I bought a virtual calendar (I LOVE your graphics). It seems strange to me how close I feel to you and Bug, but I do, and I was so heartbroken reading your post today.

    I have a 9 year old daughter and we share a relationship similar to yours and Bugs. We are extremely close. When she was born I was married to her father, who was in the Army. He was in training or in Iraq for essentially the first 3 years of her life. She was my everything and I hers. By the time he came back from Iraq, we were separated and I had moved back home (to VA from KS where we had been living-his duty station). Our separation was not my choice, it was his. I fought so hard for our relationship and was a hot mess for months (if not years) about it. How was it affecting my daughter? How would it affect her? Would I ever meet someone to be a father figure for her again? Did I want to? The amount of anguish I went through was HUGE. I could not even put into words the pain I suffered from this. She has remained in my custody since then. She sees her dad but not as a “dad” (at least I don’t think so anyway). It has been so hard, and will continue to be I’m sure.

    She is mostly outgoing, but can be extremely timid at times. It’s odd to me how outgoing and curious she can be with me, and close family friends, but then when I see her at a school function she is quiet and LOOKS to be shrinking sometimes. I don’t have answers.

    I think you are an amazing mother. I think you are doing an awesome job. You have made very hard, but wise decisions. Bug will appreciate (one day) that you made really hard decisions not only for your own personal happiness but for hers as well. I know that my daughter will see that one day too. Just keep up the pep talks, song writing, and hugs…it will get easier. She will adjust, and so will you.

    Sending happy thoughts your way!

  • Janna

    Having been a kid a lot like Bug and raised alot like bug, I just have to say I think this anxiety is school related. My bet is this anxiety will calm as she gets a little older. Kindergarten is scary stuff- new friends, making sure you make good choices, learning SO much. This time next year she will be an old pro and will not sweat school one bit.

    She is a bright, tough kid and will do famously. You are a bright, tough mommy and so will you. :)

  • cc

    Mrs. L knows her kids pretty well. She loves all her kids and if Bug was having a really bad day they would call you

    I know from experience that sometimes Bug just needs a firm “this is how it is.”

    I still have days that Suki cries and clings to me. I’ve had to leave her in the office crying, clinging to the secretary, begging me to take her home. Some days I pick her up and she’s fine some days she’s super mad and won’t talk to me. Some days I have to pick her up early because she’s been in the bathroom vomiting.

    It never gets any easier to leave her when she is this way, but if I kept her home she’d only be in school once a week.

    Taking a mental health day may be good for both of you.

    You’re doing a good job. You’re listening to her. You’re trying to understand her. She needs to know that we all have days like that. Remind her of my “happy pills” and let her know that I’m not taking them anymore so I have days just like her. Sometimes just going to the grocery store is an accomplishment.

    Give her a hug and kiss and tell her we love her.

  • Janna

    P.S. Love that you pray with her at school. Clara and I pray on the way to school, except our prayers go a little more like this, “Dear God, please help Clara to remember not to bite her friends today. Amen.” She’s teething something fierce right now! Whoa.

  • Tracy

    As a teacher, my advice would be to drop her off and then go. It’ll be hard to start, but it does get better. As part of my job in the mornings, I help with the car-riders. So I saw all the kindergartners crying in the morning as they were getting out of the car, but I would see them later in the day (sometimes, as soon as 10 min. later) and they would be all smiles. At this point in the year, most are fine to be dropped off. Some are still reluctant to do it, but they are fine when I see them later in the day (laughing and playing). In my experience, the longer the parents stay trying to calm or talk through the issue with the child, the harder it is for both parties.

  • bethany actually

    I know Bug is very different from me, so this might not work for her. :-) But when I had trouble with gym class in Kindergarten, my mom drew a pie chart of my whole day–sleeping, eating, playing, bath, coloring, singing, gym class, etc.–and showed me what a little piece of the whole day gym class was. Then she cut out that pie piece and I took it to school in my pocket so I could remember, it’s just a little piece of pie. Maybe if lunch is the part that bothers Bug, you could do something similar for her.

  • cc

    I just went back and read the other somments.

    The Kissing Hand is awesome. Mom bought it for Amber when we lived in Illinois and it’s one of our favorites.

    Also, do you remember when I sent Suki to meeting with my sweater? I put it on her and told her that every time she was sad she could hug herself because it was my arms in that sweater hugging her with all the love I have. I know it’s corny, but maybe wearing one of your small camis or tanks underneath would give her some extra comfort.

  • Calee

    So glad the day went better! Bug’s been in my thoughts and prayers all day.
    These comments were great. I love what Helena said–not your fault. At. All.

    We went through a really rough patch with Audrey earlier this year, except the crying and screaming was regularly at 3am. No inciting factor as far as I can tell. It went away with lots of hugs, some firmness and reinstating the nap for a couple of days. Go figure.
    Anxiety hits kids at any time, for any reason.

    At the library today (have to email to set up a storytime for you!) and we picked up “Alexander and the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day.” Maybe it would help? I remember thinking it was sad when I was kid because there really isn’t a happy ending, but Audrey latched onto the idea that some days are just bad days, no matter where your are. (but others are good!)

  • Madge

    I’m so glad to read the happy update. So many great suggestions in comments. I sit with Audrey while she waits for school to start too. Her friends try and try to get her to play with them before school starts but she is such a ball of nerves, she’s too afraid to join them. I know it’s tough, but I think you’re doing great. Also, don’t take on the guilt of why this is happening. Some kids just have a hard time adjusting.