Last year I was almost killed by a freak heart condition (that I now know is a genetic issue and I won't ever be out of the woods) and while we kept my daughters away while I was in ICU and having bad days, they definitely got a real sense of danger. They both know it was almost a disastrous outcome and I think it is affecting my eldest now.

She is 6 and a good student in year 1. She is not an overly confident kid, but she has friends and tries very hard to do well. She hates getting in trouble and seems to enjoy learning.

Every morning at school drop off (which I do ~3 days per week, work depending) there are issues. Some days terrible (lots of tears, teacher coming to get her) and other days are 'ok' (she goes of her own accord, but has to be told to go.) We never have incident free days.

Every morning she has something to worry about and if she doesn't, then she seems to try and think of something to worry about. This morning it was a sore finger, but she didn't think of it right away, there were a few seconds of silence before she blurted 'but my sore finger!'

We have kisses and cuddles and I then have to coerce her into leaving me and joining her line (she has small assemblies every morning with each class sitting on a line.)

Some mornings she is properly crying and that makes things so much worse because she gets totally paranoid that everybody is watching her cry, so it just snowballs.

I fear that we are now in a habitual routine. I don't know if it is still anxiety surrounding me and my health or whether she has been doing this for so long that it has become the norm.

Even if we get to school nice and early, she won't leave me to play with her friends, she'll stay with me until the bell rings.

She's extremely concerned about how people will see her. If we have a sports day, she will need us to take her usual uniform with her in case she has the wrong clothes on (i.e., there was a change in the days and today is not the sports day anymore.) Sometimes she needs to see the other kids wearing the same uniform before she will want to get out of the car.

She will worry about wearing leggings in case she gets hot, so she takes socks with her also. Again, all powered by worrying.

She has had some teasing and some rejection from some groups. Nothing over the top, no 'bullying' as such, just given a bit of a hard time about the tiny wart on her nose (which has almost gone now.)

She is scared of computer class because the teacher gets cranky and she feels like she's in trouble. (When she has been in trouble in class before, she was mortified, to the point of not being able to talk about it with us - TOTALLY traumatised by it.)

This morning, we were a little late so I walked her to the classroom and I gave her no opportunity to get upset, very quick kiss and a gentle push into the classroom, as soon as she was in there, she was fine. She needs to have the chance to worry removed from her options.

I'm really not happy with the school's handling of this, the teacher is quite hard and last year little was done also. She's definitely not a 'mainstream' kid and I can't help but feel a private alternative school would be a better option, but that means meeting all new friends again and that might be more dangerous to her right now.

After writing all this, I'm wondering if this is more a general 'worry' issue and not so much separation anxiety.

This is also the same with my wife, but she tends to get the tears more than I do.

I would love any advice.

  • 1
    As for a different school, maybe you should weigh the trauma she's going through with the trauma of making new friends. Most children make friends pretty easily (at least compared to adults) and the change in environment and school support might make it worth it. At least suss out your daughter's feelings on this; would a change of school, coupled with a strong possibility of a more supportive and welcoming teacher, be worth the stress?
    – Valkyrie
    Jun 5, 2013 at 10:59

4 Answers 4


When my oldest was having trouble being dropped at daycare, I moved the decision for how long I would stick around at dropoff onto her. (She was about 3 iirc.) We didn't have a traumatic experience like yours complicating things, but I think this might help for you. I simply told her that each morning I would stay until she told me to go.

The immediate effect was that the 5 or 10 minutes we spent together were no longer spent with her telling me not to go yet. She didn't need to do that, because I wasn't going to decide when I left. I also reminded her "I always go, and I always come back." I realize that part of what is freaking all of you out is that you're not sure that's true. But any one of us could be hit by a car etc, and we tell people we will be coming back, so I think you could try to say something like that (and mean it) for both your sakes.

The first few days we did this she made me stay a long time, I think to prove that she really could. After that the dropoffs got much quicker. Occasionally I would suggest "don't you think it's time to tell me to go?" But there wasn't much need to do it. We were both more relaxed at dropoff and it worked very well.

I worked it out with the daycare staff first. They had to be ok with me hanging around for hours the first day if that's what it took. (It was probably 30 minutes.) You may have a small issue with the school, or with whatever you go on to after school dropoff, but if you can get all of them to agree to a few days of disruption, in order to achieve the rest of the year being smooth and predictable, I'm sure they will agree. Especially the teachers who know she's reacting differently in the mornings than other children.

  • Yep, we kinda do that now. Its not a formal thing as such, but she does know that we don't leave unless she knows we are leaving. We don't sneak away or anything like that. I am about to update my question with additional information.
    – Christian
    Jun 5, 2013 at 3:01
  • Oh goodness I wasn't thinking you would sneak off. But more that you tell her she is the one who chooses the time, not you, and you stop saying "well I guess it's time for me to go now, you'll be fine" and instead wait until she says you should go. However with your update that a quick "off you go now, bye" actually worked better for her, perhaps you should stick with that.
    – Chrys
    Jun 5, 2013 at 12:18

Bless her little heart; what a scary thing to go through. And bless y'all's hearts too; this sounds absolutely horrible to have gone through.

Have you looked into therapy? Sounds like something that a professional who has dealt with grief and trauma issues might have some insights in handling.

  • Yeah, she has seen a psychologist a few times, they identified that she has a proper anxiety issue.
    – Christian
    Jun 5, 2013 at 2:59
  • Given the additional info, I think Chrys's "I'll stay until you kick me out" method might be helpful. Similar methods (we have our kids push us out of the room when we drop them off) killed separation anxiety (just garden-variety, certainly not the with-cherries-on-top your daughter is experiencing) in its tracks. And be kind to yourself; this has to be hard on you too. Give her big hugs from this anonymous internet Mom. :>
    – Valkyrie
    Jun 5, 2013 at 10:56

I know this is an old message, but it's frequently viewed, so I thought I'd append my experience (rather than opinion)

My daughter had similar issues, and for example at one point refused to remove her wool jumper at school (despite it being over 37°C in summer) in case people noticed and commented on it. In her case she was eventually diagnosed as having mild Asperger's (which is now officially simply part of the autism scale), and the way we dealt with her growing up was to simply understand the triggers and calming measures we needed to apply.

My daughter struggled learning to read because the idea of misreading a word horrified her, and she flat refused to 'guess' what a word might say in case she was wrong. We probably only told her off a handful of times, because she was so afraid of doing things wrong that she would instantly respond to any demands. This made life hard for her, and despite us doing everything to bolster her self confidence it has always caused her issues in life.

If your daughter has a similar condition she will find change threatening, and it's possible that the health scare you had has created a situation where she is genuinely afraid that change may occur in her life. This isn't the same as being afraid she will lose you, but may well come across that way from your viewpoint. Distraction works wonders, and as you say, once forced into the classroom she will immediately fit in and relax.

My response to my daughters meltdowns was to act in an almost disinterested manner, apparently ignoring her outburst, and act as though the tantrum was not happening. Reacting with the slightest hint of sympathy and understanding would reinforce her stress, and essentially demonstrating a perfectly normal and relaxed behaviour, which she found comfort in and would eventually relax.

I find this behaviour to tantrums works with all four of my children. It's always wise to step back and consider why a child might have certain adverse reactions to situations, as it's not always as simple as saying they have "separation anxiety", it can be something more ingrained in their psyche.

Diagnosing these things is not something you should look for on an internet forum. Speak to a child psychologist, as there are a range of very simple and quick tests they can perform to identify where your child sits regarding behavioural traits, and they will be able to offer advice and tactics for helping the child cope in the future.


Bless her! What a horrible thing for her to have to go through! It's understandable that at this age she might not be able to properly articulate all her fears and confusion.

While I think that the primary cause of her angst is certainly your incident last year, I wonder if she isn't also suffering from some bullying or teasing at school as well. If her anxiety were purely stemming from her fear of you never returning, then she probably wouldn't be melting down when your wife drops her off as well. Since the other kids at school can clearly see her having these meltdowns, and you've mentioned that she is also conscious of their attention during these times, she might also be suffering from being called names. This will only contribute to her unwillingness to join her class and go to school.

Even if no teasing or bullying is occurring, if she doesn't even want to leave your wife on days she drops off then she has clearly expanded her worry and fear to not only encompass you, but also your wife and possibly other people you don't even know about yet. No child should go through life worrying that their parents aren't going to come home--even if there's not an especially good reason for that worry. If it were me, I'd find a good child psychologist or counselor trained to deal with children.

On another level, if finding a counselor or psychologist isn't possible, you might try taking her with you to a doctor's appointment. I assume that since this is a genetic condition you see your doctor fairly frequently for monitoring. Your doctor might be able to offer reassurances and let her know that you're being well cared-for. I would certainly discuss it with your doc before you just show up with your daughter (some docs do not have the bedside manner to handle freaked-out 6-year-olds and will only make the situation worse).

Until then, it might be time to have a sit-down where you discuss the situation as openly as you possibly can with a 6-year-old. You say you tried to shelter your kids during the midst of the crisis, but, while you and your wife have moved on, your daughter doesn't seem to have the same sense of closure. Mentioning to your daughter that you've noticed that she seems to have a hard time in the morning when you drop her off at school, asking her if she worries that mommy or daddy is not going to come back, asking her if she's worried that daddy will get sick again, etc. She can answer these questions, but she probably needs someone else (whose older with a broader vocabulary) to articulate for her everything she's feeling.

  • Thanks Meg, she's definitely been teased at school for various things (she had a tiny wart on the end of her nose - easily the worst thing for a kid with anxiety and confidence issues.) Our doctor is amazing and has 2 children with heart conditions, so has great bedside manner and is very reassuring. I'll update my question with some additional information and observations over the past week.
    – Christian
    Jun 5, 2013 at 3:04

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