Thursday, October 11, 2007


Poor Sam.

My little boy seems to be plagued by anxiety about kindergarten.

By all appearances he really likes school. He's learning to write lowercase letters and practices by writing lists of words. This morning he asked me to write him a list of 12 words so he could copy them into his notebook. He loves going to PE and the library. He proudly shows me when he earns stickers for being good in music and art. He is so pleased when I ooh and aah over his homework. He is excited when he tells me about the things he's learning. He glows when he tells me that the clothespin with his name on it is always on green on the construction paper traffic light in his classroom that indicates the students' classroom behavior. He tells me that he's the best in his class.

But he worries.

On Thursdays, when he goes to the library, he checks and double checks that his library book is in his backpack to be returned.

Every day when he gets off the bus, he has to sprint home to pee because I think he is afraid to ask to go to the bathroom at school. I think he thinks his clothespin might go to yellow if he calls attention to himself.

One day he tried to buy ice cream in the cafeteria, but he didn't have any money in his account and says that he put his PIN number in wrong. I told him that I was putting money in his account so he could buy ice cream if he wants to. He panicked and said he didn't want to buy food in the cafeteria. Ever. He refused to give the envelope with lunch money in it to his teacher for several days.

It's his birthday on Saturday so I'm sending cupcakes with him tomorrow. He was worried and wanted to make sure that it was okay with his teacher. I told him that I told his teacher that I would be sending cupcakes and still he asked several times whether it was okay. I told him that he could tell her, "My birthday is Saturday, but I get to celebrate at school today," when he hands her the cupcakes. He rehearsed it several times and asked me to remind him of what to say when I drop him off tomorrow.

When I told him I was going to start volunteering in his classroom, he didn't want me to come on Thursdays because he thought he would have to come home with me when I left and he wouldn't get to go to the library.

Whenever something out of the ordinary happens, he wants me to go over the details over and over to make sure that he knows what is going on. And he asks me repeatedly if it's okay.

I've tried to tell him that it's okay to tell the teacher what he needs. That he won't get in trouble for raising his hand and asking for permission to do something. I wrote a note for him to take to his teacher tomorrow asking her to help convince him that it's okay to go to the bathroom. I told him that he doesn't have to buy ice cream, but that he can if he wants to because he has money now. I told him that we could practice putting in his PIN number. I tell him that it's okay if he can't do everything perfectly. I tell him that his teacher loves him and is proud of him and says he is doing great.

I tell him over and over that I love him and I am proud of him and that he is an amazing little guy.

I want him to do well. I want him to stay on green. But I don't want him to be so afraid and worried. I want him to enjoy school. Because it's kindergarten, for chrissakes. I don't want him to be motivated by fear.

I don't know how to help him. I know elementary school is a big adjustment, but it makes me so sad that he's so anxious. I don't know how to help him.


  1. Oh, poor little guy! It just breaks your heart, doesn't it? I dunno, I guess the best thing would be to continue just what you're doing. Answering his questions, reassuring him and letting him feel safe voicing his fears with you.
    A private talk with his teacher probably wouldn't hurt, but the most important thing - I think - is to just keep letting him know it really IS okay.
    After a while when he experiences more of the things he is worried about and he does okay - or if he doesn't - the sky doesn't fall - maybe he will be less anxious.
    Oh - also, maybe if you can find a good time you can go over with him what he is afraid WILL happen. "okay Sam. What do you think will happen if you put your pin number in wrong?" and "and if that happens - what do you think will happen next .." Hopefully you can show him how the worst that can happen isn't nearly as bad as he's thinking.
    My son saw a therapist for a while because he used to do something similar. He called it catastrophysing. I hope spelling doesn't count. He built up consequences in his mind to a point where he was afraid of what would happen in too many circumstances. I would get mad at him about some regular Mom and kid thing - and he would cower like I beat him regularly. I can still hear myself "Andy, have I ever hit you?" He always answered no, but he still cowered for a while. He basically had to have his fears proved wrong. You're a good Mom, sounds like you have great instincts. Trust yourself - because he needs to trust you too. :)

  2. Thank you, BetteJo. You brought tears to my eyes. And gave me very good advice. Thank you.

  3. Oh, babe. I am sitting here reliving it all. Email me if you want my thoughts and some of the strategies that I used with my Boo. I don't want to do it here cause it will take up quite a bit of space! It is so hard, my heart breaks for you both, but it will get better. I promise.

  4. Poor Sam, sounds like me as a kid. I think you're doing great with him. I like bettejo's suggestion about working through what would happen if something did go wrong and problem solve from there. I was in therapy a few year back from anxiety and we did that same thing. It really helps you to see that even if the worst happens, there are ways to work through it and it WILL be ok. Hang in there, kindergarten takes some adjusting. That's a long day for a little guy. My middle son is in Kindergarten too this year and it's exhausting for him. He started the year with some worries too and has worked through most of them

  5. Sounds like you are doing things just right. Keep praising what he does well, and letting him know you love him. You might want to alert his teachers to the anxiety, and especially to make sure he uses the bathroom, and be sure they are reinforcing positive behavior.

    ***HUGS*** from us- he's getting all grown up!!!

  6. When I was in the first grade, I was afraid to use the bathroom, not because I didn't want to raise my hand, but because I had never been in there and somehow in my head I decided that something bad would happen if I went in there. As first grade was a full day of school, during which I steadfastly refused to go to the bathroom, it often turned out very badly for me. My mom and teacher both figured out pretty soon that I wasn't going to the bathroom at school, so they both explained to me that it was ok to raise my hand and ask to go (I don't know if they talked to each other about it, but they probably did), but that wasn't the problem. The problem was just that it was someplace I had never been and I wasn't interested in trying out new (and therefore, by definition, scary) experiences.

    Finally my teacher made up a lesson which involved flushing the toilet and looking to see if the water went clockwise or counterclockwise, and from this we learned something about geography or something. But it got me in the bathroom, it didn't single me out, and while we were in there she made a big show of saying "Over here by the toilet paper" and "Right here where you can wash your hands." As best I can recall, after that I was able to use the bathroom at school just fine.

    Poor little Sam sounds an awful lot like me as a kid. I was a worrier. But now look at me! I'm happy-go-lucky without a care in the world! Oh, wait, I'm a lawyer. Oh well.

  7. worry worry worry,
    Hopefully as time passes he will feel better.
    I haven't gotten much sleep because f worry so I guess it doesn't matter how old you are

  8. Oh the poor guy. My son had tons of questions and was afraid too. I would let the teacher know, they have been through this many times.


  9. My Son went thru a huge anxiety phase (it's part of his Aspergers). We got a book, highly recomended and used it with him - it's more like a workbook, but a story at the same time about how to handle worrying. It worked amazing with him and also gave him a way to deal with it. If you are interetested in it (we got it at Barnes and Noble) or other strategies we've used with my son, let me know!

  10. Hi. What a poignant description of something so many of us can identify with, whether we had or have a child like your little fella, or we were like him ourselves.

    I loved Lane's comment; God bless her teacher for being so wise. My shy, gentle children, or the sensitive ones, have all had harder adjustments to new situations. They need someone to go through it with them, often, and luckily when they're young it's OK for that someone to be mom.

    I can't tell you how many times I've gotten to go through the lunch line with the first-time school attendee, taken the cupcakes myself, etc. That may feel too intrusive to you; since from your blog it's clear that you know what's what with your child, I suspect you'll make the best decision for your son. Follow your heart and you won't go wrong, sister. You're doing great. Give yourself a gold star!

  11. Sweet little Sam. He is very lucky to have the parents he does. Y.M.

  12. Bless his little heart.

    My youngest nephew started kindergarten this year too. He has an entirely different outlook of it though.

    He told his dad it was okay that he wasn't on green anymore, because he had lots more colors to go until he was really in trouble.

    I can laugh because I am very far away. And I do. Laugh, that is.

  13. My Sam had a first grade teacher from hell we called General L. He so wanted to please and she was so rigid and stern: first grade as elementary boot camp. He once said in the car on the way "Mom, I think there are two of me. The School Sam who is very serious and perfect and the Home Sam who is funny and relaxed. One day, he just couldn't get our separation ritual right and needed more hugs and kisses and teacher was zero help, oblivious, so I took a paperclip from my pocket and said "Look Sam, this is my Magic Paper Clip, the one that helped me get the broken key out of the lock" and he said "No, no I can't take it, I'll lose it" and another kid walks over astounded "Sam, I didn't know your mom had a Magic Paper clip" and Sam tucked it in his pocket and was fine. I was desperate. He eventually became a cut up in grades 2,3,etc. Doesn't last.


Thanks for commenting! May you be visited by unicorns and kittens.