My daughter is 3, and she's going to pre-school now. My husband and I have recently separated. Ella loves school. She talks about it enthusiastically when she's at home, and she likes being there, but has a very difficult time when I leave her there. She wraps herself around me, clings tightly, and won't let me get out the door. This has been going on for awhile.
Yesterday, after we got home from school, she was feisty and cranky. I was fixing her a snack, and I could tell that bad feelings were close to the surface. The last straw for her was that the chair I had set out for her was in the “wrong” place. I knew that this was an opportunity to help her with how she felt, so I didn't fix it.
She ran across the room, upset about the chair. I went over to sit next to her. She was trying to cry, but wasn't crying yet–it was a kind of “fake” crying. I sat with her, and told her as gently as I could, “That chair is just in the wrong place,” trying to help her feel her upset fully. She said, “I don't need you!” and ran away from me. I moved to about 4 feet away from her again, and said, “I'm going to stay nearby, I don't want to leave you right now.” She kept moving away from me, across the room or into another room, and I kept moving near her again. Each time she became more upset and getting closer to a real cry. Finally, as I moved in towards her she didn't run away. Instead she lay on the floor kicking and repeating, “I don't need you!” Then, I said, “I'm sorry I can't stay with you in the morning at school, but I just can't.” She began to cry hard. I asked, “Does it make you mad?” She nodded no. I asked, “Does it make you sad?” She nodded no, then she nodded yes, and began to cry really hard. I told her again that I was sorry I couldn't stay with her in the mornings at school. She kept crying hard, and began to say, “I want Mommy! I want Mommy!” She was sobbing, and she came and curled into my arms and cried hard for awhile. It was lovely to hold her and help her with these feelings. At some point, she just stopped, as though we'd been having a conversation and the subject had changed. That was all.
The next morning, when it was time for me to leave her at school, she ran up to me, gave me a big hug and a kiss, and said, “Bye, Mommy!” and then ran off to play. What a change! I have to tell you that the morning after that, she was feeling things again, and clung to me–I think because our life has been unsettled at home, she isn't finished with this yet. But it was great to see what a good cry could do for her.
– A mother in San Francisco, California