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Newsflash:
Sunday, 25 March 2001

Preschool Panic

Written by  Naomi Baum, PhD.

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QDear WholeFamily Counselor,

Hi, my concern is of my five-year-old son. I really think he has panic attacks and I don't know how to deal with this. It started about a month and a half ago at preschool. He said he was scared to be there alone without me anymore and wouldn't stay. I haven't been able to leave him there without a fight ever since. Nothing has happen to him there he just started fearing me leaving him. He gets hysterical and inconsolable. He also says that he feels like throwing up and that his throat feels funny. He says all this in the mist of his screaming and crying for me. I waited outside the door one day and he cried for a half hour. He gets very angry and will kick or hit things. He won't hit other kids. When his teacher gave him a kleenex he ripped it up and threw it on the ground. The weird thing is that after he throws this fit he calms down and he is fine. He talks and plays like nothing ever happened. How can I help him get over this?

AI can understand your concern about your son's apparently sudden and extreme change in behavior. There are many questions I would like to ask, and suggest that you consider some of them yourself. Have you spoken to the preschool teacher? How does she perceive the situation, and what does she recommend? Is there a guidance counselor or psychologist affiliated with this preschool who could help both you and the teacher deal with this problem?

This is the type of situation that is difficult to counsel by mail, and is much more effective in person. I will, however, try to shed some light on what is going on. Your son is clearly reacting to something; what it is he is reacting to, we don't know. It may be something as seemingly trivial as another child who bullied him in school. There may be some change in his family environment (pregnancy or birth of a new child are two "prime" reasons that children react like this; marital discord can also influence a preschooler). There may be other reasons that we are unaware of that are causing your son to react in this manner.

It is important to make sure that the environment of the preschool is a safe one for your child, and that the teacher is a competent teacher. Once you have ascertained this, (and I am assuming that you have) you need to send a very clear and unequivocal message to your son. Try something like: " When I drop you off at school, I will accompany you to class, help you off with your jacket, kiss you good bye and leave. I hope you won't cry. If you do, I will still have to leave. I will be back to pick you up at 12:30, when all the other children get picked up." Review this very clear message with him. He will test you. He will cry for several days. He will, however, get the message. It is important to have the support of his teacher. She may be able to reward him immediately for not crying by giving him a sticker, or some other reward.

When you pick him up, don't go into great detail with your son about how he feels when you leave. If he informs you that he cried, tell him that you are sorry he cried and you hope he won't tomorrow. Leave it at that. Let him know how much you love him, and reassure him that you are there for him.

If you present a clear, definitive message to him, it is likely that he will understand pretty quickly. He may continue to cry a bit, but this too will disappear. I repeat, it is most important to have the teacher's input and support in this plan. Without it, it will not work.

I wish you much luck. Please let me know how it goes.

Sincerely,

Naomi L. Baum, Ph.D.

Last modified on Sunday, 30 October 2011 11:19
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Naomi Baum, PhD.

Naomi Baum, PhD.

Naomi Baum is the Director of the Resilience Unit at The Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma and the National School Resilience Project. Her work at ICTP focuses on developing programs to build resilience in communities that have been highly exposed to trauma and stress. She has successfully brought her approach to Biloxi, Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Her work there included seven visits to the city, she trained teachers, social workers, school nurses, and counselors. She has also worked with the population in Haiti following teh earthquake. She has written about Trauma and Resilience in several published articles and books.

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