Ep. 72 – Kam Dosanjh – I Don’t Want To Go To School! (Separation Anxiety)
- The importance of parents prioritizing their own mental breaks and health
- Why a parent can be a trigger for their child’s anxieties
- How counseling can work with kids
It’s not uncommon for kids to cry about not wanting to go to school. Transitioning from home to school is tough because it requires significant shifts in focus and feeling. However, when a child’s crying continues for weeks/months, and leaving home is a continual source of stress, there’s more to be explored.
This episode is the story of a Mom who discovered she was a trigger for her child’s school tears and the counselor who helped their family find release and resolve their struggle.
Kam DosanjhKam Dosanjh was born into what she lovingly calls ‘a big fat Punjabi family.’ Motivated by respect for children and for education Kam pursued a career in early childhood education and since 2016, she’s been a lead teacher for Wind and Tide Education Community.
A cherished quality of Kam is her ability to relate to and encourage parents who are struggling with getting their child to school. Kam can sympathize! This was a daily battle in her home as year after year, their youngest daughter cried and resisted leaving home for school. As a teacher Kam is committed to sharing her discovered experiences around separation anxieties with parents, realizing that when schools and parents work together, children are set up to succeed.
Ep. 72 – Kam Dosanjh – I Don’t Want To Go To School! (Separation Anxiety)
Rachel Cram – Well, Kam, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m excited for this conversation, and for hearing your story.
Kam Dosanjh – Well, thank you, Rachel, for having me. I’ve really been looking forward to this.
Rachel Cram – Me too. I want to introduce you as a friend of mine and a colleague. We work together at Wind and Tide. You are one of our beloved teachers working in our preschool programs and I’ve come to see you as a trusted resource for parents as well, particularly on the topic of childhood anxiety, which we are going to talk about today from the perspective of your own family’s journey.
KD – I think this topic can help so many parents, and it’s so important for people to know that there’s help out there and and just how to navigate it.
RC – Yeah. Anxiety is a huge topic, and this is going to be a conversation about your family’s experience, so we’re not setting this episode up as a diagnostic exploration of the topic. But certainly as teacher’s we are seeing childhood anxieties on the rise. When we started Wind and Tide 35 years ago this topic wasn’t in teacher training or in our purview and now it most definitely is.
So, maybe as a first question Kam, is there a difference between nurturing kids as a mom versus as a teacher? Now, I think the obvious answer is yes. But can you talk to me a little bit about that?
KD – Yeah, there definitely is a difference. When you are a teacher you can disconnect a bit. So you can disconnect from the emotional and talk to the parents from a statistics standpoint and also from, my own experiences, I can draw from that. But when you’re a mother and you’re on the other side of this, you’re so emotionally attached, right? It’s your baby. It’s your child, it’s your heartbeat.
As a mom, sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to the teacher on the other side, even though I’m the teacher on the other side and that’s where I have to remind myself, I can trust them. They are looking for the best for my child.
RC – It’s interesting and humbling to discover that isn’t it? It’s so much easier to be the parent when you’re not the parent.
KD – It is.
RC – In my experience, and this is beyond Wind and Tide as well, to my kid’s teachers in their schools, teachers do care very deeply about their students and families and they see our children from a different vantage point to us as parents, which can be so helpful. But it does take trust, which, like your saying, doesn’t always come easily.
KD – I know, I know, the biggest difference is, is to take the teacher hat off and put the mom hat on and trust the other person on the other end of this conversation.
RC – Well, before we go down this journey into your daughter’s experience with anxiety, what was growing up like for you Kam? Are you raising your children similarly to how you were raised?
KD – Yeah, my family structure is very similar to how I grew up. I grew up in a nuclear family, my mom, my dad, my older brother. But, I also grew up in an extended family, being part of my culture. My grandparents lived with us. My cousins were down the street. We always had aunts and uncles coming and going. But my dad created this environment for us at home that was very loving and when I was looking for a spouse, I think I was looking for a lot of those same traits that my dad had brought us up in. And then also coming from a cultural.
RC – And when you say “coming from a cultural,” what’s the culture?
KD – So I’m Punjabi. So coming from a Punjabi background. My dad migrated over here and he started a life for us in Canada. I was born in Canada. And being in my culture, there’s a big definition between men and women, but my dad never defined that in our household. It was like, even though you’re a girl, you still are very capable of doing anything that you want to do.
I ended up having two girls, and that’s something my husband also firmly believes and always reminds our girls it doesn’t matter. You can do anything in this world. So that was something we both believed in, and I feel what I’ve done is I’ve taken the good of everything that is part of my Punjabi background and I’ve modernized it into how I want to raise my children. So we’re pretty much the big fat Indian family.
RC – Like the big fat Greek wedding?
KD – Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re that family who has like 50 weddings a year, when COVID hit, I think my girls were so happy because they didn’t have to go to a wedding every weekend. So, that’s pretty much my background of how I grew up. I grew up happy, I grew up loved and I grew up heard, which was huge for me too. And that’s what we really focus on with our girls to make sure that they’re heard.
RC – Now, in the midst of all that, were you aware of mental health concerns? Were you aware of anxiety?
KD – No. In my Punjabi family, these type of topics aren’t talked about. If you have a mental illness, it’s pretty much brushed under the carpet or there’s one of those like snap out of it, you’re fine. I’m like, I don’t understand how you can be depressed. You’ve got a good life. You have, you know, your kids are healthy, this, this, this. So I don’t understand why you would be depressed. So there was a lot of ignoring it and not seeing it for what it was.
So, I’m sure there was people in my family that were probably having mental illnesses, but nobody talked about it. It was never an open conversation. Even though my dad was very liberated, and we had very open conversations, mental illness was never a conversation that was discussed in our household.
RC – Yeah. I think back to my own growing up in a Caucasian household, it’s probably similar. Across the world, mental health has emerged as a much bigger and broader topic of conversation. But would you say in Punjabi culture and this is maybe too broad a question to ask, but would you say it is still not a topic that’s discussed?
KD – I do still feel it’s not a topic that’s discussed. I think the younger generation, my generation and younger, because I’m not that young anymore either. But I feel we’re having more conversations about mental illness with our children, with our families. But it’s hard because you’re having a conversation with the older generation who doesn’t believe in this mental illness. So I feel going forward, yes, there’s definitely been a lot more conversation. But is it where we need to be? No, definitely not. There’s a lot more work that can still be done.
RC – Yeah. And I think that’s probably true of all of us. but it’s interesting to hear how different cultures are coming at mental health concerns, so thanks for talking about that from your perspective.
So, let’s jump into your first clear introduction to mental health with your daughter Priya. She’s your second daughter, right?
KD – Yes, she’s my second daughter.
RC – So before her coming into your family, what did your family look like?
KD – So it’s myself, my husband and my oldest daughter. If I had my youngest first, I think she would be the only child. When my oldest came, she came into this world smiling and laughing and she hasn’t stopped. She just takes life as it is. She slept through the night at three months. She was walking before she was a year. Talking before she was a year. We were super parents in our mind, right? Like we just raised the perfect child who’s always laughing, never cries. It was like, wow, we can do this. like, oh, we should be making six of these,
RC – Writing books.
KD – Putting these great humans into the world. And then six years later, our youngest came and the story changes.
RC – So what, what was your experience with having Priya? And obviously you love her just as much, but this is the benefit of having multiple children. They make us less judgmental because they all arrive with different temperaments, skills, learning styles, ways of showing up in the world. And I appreciate your candor on this. It can be such a different experience with different kids. And it has nothing to do with love and passion and joy for them. But it keeps us on our toes.
KD – It does. From the moment I found out I was pregnant with her it was a roller coaster. I was really sick in my pregnancy. I had multiple surgeries in my pregnancy. There were times when we were like, “Is this even going to happen? Is she even going to make it to full term?”
She was born at 39 weeks. It was an emergency C-section. She was 4 pounds and 11 ounces. My husband used to call her woodchuck, which is the little yellow bird from the Snoopy cartoon.
RC – Yes. Woodstock.
KD – Yes. That’s literally what she looked like. She was tiny and she just looked like that. So I feel with Priya, I’m really physically, mentally, emotionally connected with her because her and I, even before she was born, we went through so much because everything my body went through, she went through with me, right?
So she comes into this world in a C-section manner and they plop her over the little curtain that they hang there when you’re having a C-section and she’s got this hair coming out of everywhere. Both my girls, they had a lot of hair. And then they took her upstairs and my husband had that time to bond with her that I didn’t. Normally when a child is born, you get that skin to skin. So I didn’t get that right away until probably about 4 hours later when I was able to see her. And my husband, you know, he had that skin to skin, he had that bonding time with her.
RC – And and he knew to do that? When you’re saying skin to skin, did he actually put her against his skin? Had someone told him to do that? That’s so enlightened.
KD – I think he just remembered from our oldest that I was doing that. So I think he just remembered that. And he goes, “I brought her up and she grabbed my finger and it was just such a moment.”
And I was like, “Oh, that’s so great.”
Okay, it’s okay. I missed, you know, all these great moments of my child’s life right in the beginning, you know, because you’re emotional. Your mind is just going in 50 different speeds. So they brought her in and that was my turn to do skin to skin. And when they put her onto my skin, she started crying. And I said to my husband, “Was she crying when you held her?”
And he’s like, “No.”
Again, you’re emotional. I’m like, “Oh, my God. Oh my child. She doesn’t love me.”
Right away you start. But it’s just it’s just the emotional aspect of just giving birth. And then I stayed in the hospital for a week, her and I, and it was a recovery for sure, and came home and my oldest was six now. So that was a bit easier at least I didn’t have a young child. And I just kind of noticed right away she would cry more than my oldest would. And then we found out she was actually colicky. So that explained the long cries. And we dealt with that and life took over in a way of just raising her. And I felt my oldest kind of got put on the back seat. I think it was Vanessa that said Dandelion,
RC – I was just going to bring that up.
KD – Dandelion and the Orchid, right? So my oldest is the Dandelion and my youngest is my orchid.
RC – And just to refer that back to season one, I think that’s episode two of family360 with Dr. Vanessa Lapointe.
KD – Yeah. Yeah. So Vanessa had come to one of our workshops through work and she had mentioned that. And my oldest was the dandelion. She was going to thrive no matter what. But my youngest needed so much attention and so much love and so much care. My husband would come home and she would just constantly be crying. He would get in the door and I would just pass her off. And “I’m out of here. I need 5 minutes.”
And he actually told me a few years later, sometimes he used to stand at the door with the key, and he would hear her crying and he would just give himself like a couple of minutes before he came in to embrace that. And that’s reality. That’s the reality of raising children.
And then we got her into preschool at two and a half. I got her into an amazing preschool and the first day I dropped her off she cried. I just left. I said goodbye, turned around and I left, went into my car, called my best friend, and bawled my eyes out and said, I’ve just abandoned my child because that’s what you feel.
RC – Why did you decide preschool at that point in time? Because you were a stay at home mom?
KD – Yes, I was a stay at home mom. And at that time, I decided to put her in preschool for two reasons. One, I was her only social circle, and she really needed that social development. And two, I needed a break.
RC – Can you talk to me a little bit about that? Because I think some people listening can go, “Surely you don’t need to put your child in preschool when they’re two and a half if you’re at home.”
And I hear you saying you need a break and I think that’s really important. Can you enlarge on that a little bit?
KD – Yeah, for sure. I mean, being a stay at home mom, it’s not easy. Just being a mom in general is not easy. Right? But for me, my mental sanity needed that. She was so attached to me. At times I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And for me to be a good mother, my mental state needs to be well.
So when I would drop her off, I would go to the gym or I would take that time to even just go home and take a nap. You forget what sleep feels like, you know, having a new child. So it was for both of us.
I did get a lot of negative backlash within the family, saying, “Oh, she’s so young. Why are you putting her in?” To be the better version of a mother, I needed that break. And it’s okay. It’s okay to have that break.
If your well-being is healthy, then you’re going to thrive and your children are going to thrive with you. And that’s very important.
Musical interlude #1
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RC – So you’re raising your dandelion and your orchid? Those are great analogies. I’m going to keep working at that. At what point did you start to have concerns about Priya’s mental health? When did you start to realize that there was something going on apart from ‘orchid’?
KD – Yeah, it came crashing down January of grade two. But now when I reflect back and I think, “Were there other flags, anything else that I missed?”
I did. I missed a lot. When Priya started preschool like I said, she was two and a half and she was in the same preschool for three years, the same teachers every year. She cried every drop off. She was fine when she was there. The teachers would always let me know. It was like maybe a minute or two. And it was every year the exact same teachers, majority of the time the same students. So it wasn’t a different environment every year.
And then kindergarten comes, she was crying every morning going to school. Grade one, she was crying every morning going to school. So when I look back, why didn’t I pick up on that?
RC – And when you picked her up, what did her emotional state seem to be?
KD – Oh, she would be so happy. She would be thrilled, like bouncing out of the door. I just had the best day ever. And it used to just make me so happy that, you know, she’s had the best day ever.
RC – And that is a very common thing for children to struggle with the transition of leaving their moms. I know you see all the time as a teacher, the parent leaves and then they relax because the transitions happened and they love it. They love their day. And so often the child that’s sobbing when the parent drops him off is also the child, when the parent comes to pick them up, who will say, “No, I don’t want to leave. Just one more slide or one more play in the sandbox or one more painting I want to do.
KD – They’ve just had the best day.
RC – They’ve had a great day. And that’s what makes it difficult to determine what’s happening because they do well once they are there. But for some children, that transition from home to school is really challenging for them.
KD – It is. And you’re right. That’s why it’s so complicated, because you try to think, is this the right decision for them? Is this the right choice? Because preschool is not mandatory, right?
But I feel if I did not put her in preschool when I did, kindergarten would have been a lot harder for her. So that transition, moving from her preschool to her kindergarten, and a lot of her classmates happened to move over too, that bit was easier now for her. Now she understood, “Okay, this is a place where I get to go have fun.”
And the day was longer, definitely from going from preschool to kindergarten, your day is longer. But she was happy, though.
RC – Yeah. So, looking back you wonder if there were flags, which is much easier in retrospect to be fair. What officially let you know you Priya needed more help?
KD – So it was grade two, in January. Her teacher asked, she goes, “Has anything shifted at home? Like, what’s happening in the home life? Is anything changed?”
“No, we’re still the same family. Nothing’s changed. Nobody’s come, nobody’s gone. It’s just very normal to our day to day life. Nothing’s changed.”
She goes, “Well lately in school, she’s been having these outbursts and she’s been crying at school.”
But Priya never mentioned any of this at home to us that she was having these outbursts. So the first we heard of them were from her teacher.
Right away you think, “Okay, is she being bullied? Is someone saying something to her? You just start thinking of all these reasons as to why she should be crying, right? Is her teacher saying anything to her or anything?
RC – Of course, yeah. You start thinking, is there harm? Do I need to be vigilant to something that’s harming my child? Some external person or force?
KD – Yeah. And I mean, we talked about everything, anything and everything that I could have thought that would have caused her to have these outbursts of not wanting to be at school. So you start checking the boxes tick, tick, tick. And everything was. “No, I’m not being bullied. No, my teacher’s not being mean to me. No, my friends are all nice.”
It was just ‘nos’ to everything. So I was like, “Well, why don’t you want to be at school? What’s. What’s happening?”
She’s like, “I don’t know. I just don’t want to be there.”
That was her answer. “I don’t know. I just don’t want to be there.”
KD – Ok, well you have to go to school.
RC – And did you sense this was different than the previous years when she hadn’t wanted to go to school?
KD – It was different because when she said that, then I looked at her and I really looked at her. And her eyes were sunken in. And I didn’t notice that before. This time the sadness was in her eyes.
So I made an appointment with her teacher and I said, “What’s going on? Fill me in on everything.”
And she was amazing. Saving grace was her grade two teacher, and she was like,“Nothing shifted in the classroom. She’s still friends with all her friends. There’s nothing like nothing happening.”
So this is January, breakdowns every morning before school. “Don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to go to school.”
And now I’m on Dr. Google, “Okay, what do I need to do?”
I’m looking for that quick, easy answer which never exists. So March, we hit spring break. And during that time, my husband’s best friend was getting married and they were going to go away for his stag. And that weekend Priya was just with me and my oldest daughter, and I noticed she started doing these crazy flips in the house and banging into walls, it’s like she’s purposely trying to hurt herself. But then I thought to myself, I’m like, “No, no, no. I’m just overthinking this.”
And it was the Sunday before school was going to start. And that whole weekend she was just like really jittery and jumpy and that night I’m like, “Okay, well, let’s start our bedtime routine.”
And she just lost it.
RC – What do you mean by lost it?
KD – She was like, “I’m not going to school tomorrow. I am not going to even go to sleep because if I don’t go to sleep, then I’ll be too tired to go to school.”
And then she said to me, “I hope you know that I was trying to hurt myself so that I wouldn’t have to go to school tomorrow.”
RC – Okay.
KD – And that moment my heart just dropped. And she just started crying, screaming and just anger so much. I’ve never seen so much anger in her. And I think that weekend her body was done dealing with this. And she goes,” I would rather die than go to school.”
And those words just hit me.
RC – How did you respond when she said that?
KD – When she made that comment, I deflated with her and we both cried. Because I think I was tired, too, tired of holding it all together for her too, having all these conversations over and over and over. And at that point, my husband actually wasn’t even on board.
RC – On board with thinking there was something bigger going on for Priya?
KD – He wasn’t on board in the sense that he thought I was making it into more than it was. He thought it was just part of growing up and he’s like, “I don’t think she needs counseling.”
RC – So your gut was telling you one thing. And his gut was telling him something different. Which is complicated.
KD – It is. It’s very complicated. We were on two different ends of this. And when he came back from that trip, he just looked at me and I just started bawling my eyes out, and I just went into this little ball, and he’s like, “What happened? Like, what’s going on?”
And I told him everything of the weekend and I said, “She needs help.”
And that’s when he was like, “Okay, you’re right, she needs help.”
So at that moment, we both kind of came together. Okay, where do we start? We’re going to figure it out.
So I started looking for counseling. I met with probably 15 counselors before we decided on Wishing Start Foundation, and I was familiar with Wishing Star because at Wind and Tide we’ve had their workshops and everything.
RC – Yes. That’s Dr. Vanessa’s Lapointe’s child development clinic. Which counselor did you meet with?
KD – I met with Rebecca, Rebecca Mitchell was her clinical counselor and I went in there first and then my husband and I went in together before she even met Priya. And I just remember coming out of there feeling heard, like “It’s okay, we got this, we’re going to get through this and we’re going to get through this together.”
RC – Did you feel like you knew what you were going to a counselor for? Did you feel you were going there for anxiety or did you wonder if it was other things?
KD – I was actually think it was depression, childhood depression and that’s kind of what I was Googling. Again, do not listen to Dr. Google.
RC – It can be a very dark hole.
KD – Yes, it can be a very dark hole.
RC – Had you explained to Priya that she was going to be going to talk to Rebecca to help her deal with what she was feeling?
KD – Yeah, I did. I sat her down the night before and I said, “Listen, honey, we’re going to go meet someone tomorrow. She’s going to talk to you about what’s happening at school.”
And also in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, “Okay, there’s something else going on and she doesn’t want to tell me.”
RC – Of course. Back to worrying about bullying or something. Yeah.
KD – Right. And maybe she’ll tell Rebecca. So that was still on the back of my mind.
RC – Oh, I think that would be on the back of any parent’s mind, wondering about things like that. Like, is there something your child has not told you, either intentionally or not? So you went in to meet with Rebecca thinking that maybe you were looking at depression.
So where does she start? What were the steps?
KD – So when I initially made the appointment, it was interviewing Sam and I together. So my husband and I, and then she did us individually. She didn’t get to Priya until a third interview.
So when I went in, I told her the whole story from beginning to where we are now. And then she just asked us some questions like, “How is she at home? How is she at other social gatherings? Is she still wanting to play with her friends?”
So all these conversations that we had, it came down to, no, it’s not depression, it’s more anxiety.
Musical Interlude #2
If you’d like to read a written transcript of this conversation with Kam, find links at family360podcast.com. It’s all there waiting for you.
RC – When Rebecca said anxiety, did you find it helpful to have a word,
KD – Yeah.
RC – To put to what she was experiencing.
KD – I think so, yeah, because it’s like, okay, it’s anxiety. Now we have a name, now we have a game plan. Now we’re going forward. Whereas before I felt like I was in limbo. I was just going around in circles, didn’t know what we’re dealing with. I don’t know what the extent of this was going to be.
It’s like she’s been holding all this in probably from birth, because you don’t just get anxiety. It’s always been there for her until this moment where she had her explosion, as I call it. She’s been holding it together. At the age of seven, imagine holding all that emotion in and trying to navigate life. And then she went and I feel she just unloaded on Rebecca.
RC – How often did she go?
KD – We were going once a week, and throughout the summer, we continued. Grade three, I think we had we were still with Rebecca, but every year after that, because of the coping mechanisms that Rebecca taught her, she understood now what her brain was going through, what her body was going through, and that it was okay. Because I think a part of her crash was because I think she felt in her mind that it wasn’t okay to feel like this. And that’s a lot to hold on to even as an adult. That’s a lot to hold on to. “This isn’t normal. I’m not normal.”
When Rebecca explained it to her, somehow she got through to her where I couldn’t and my husband couldn’t and she got her to use these coping mechanisms, these tools that to this day, they are such an important part of Priya’s life.
RC – What an incredible relief that must have been for you and Sam, and for Priya of course, to have that normalizing experience, and also for Priya to find some relief and release. Can you describe some of the practices of coping mechanisms that Rebecca taught Priya?
KD – Yeah, I think the three biggest tips that worked for us. One was the breathing. When she felt very anxious or she felt like she was not being able to control what’s happening around her, to breathe in and hold for five and then breathe out and hold for five. And then we had an expandable ball that as she breathe out, the ball expanded and as she breathe in, in. We have him in our classroom, too. And I just can’t remember what they’re called, but they’re like a fidget toy almost.
RC – Those are actually really amazing balls. And you can get them at most toys stores.
KD – Yeah. Masterminds. Most of them carry those. And then another one was the worry monster that was sitting on her shoulder and not letting that worry monster control her. And that she can shut that worry monster down by telling it to pretty much get lost. And she felt so grown up when she got to say, “Get lost.”
RC – And would you see her doing these things? The breathing ball, the worry monster?
KD – Yes. So the breathing ball, she actually did every morning with my husband before she went to school. And sometimes I would see her telling the worry monster to get lost. And the last one was just talking. When she was feeling like her worlds starting to unravel a little bit in front of her, or if she’s not feeling in control, coming to us and talking about it. Or talking to whoever she wanted to have that conversation with. And also just being heard.
RC – How would you know that she was feeling heard?
KD – I would know because she would tell me afterwards, I feel better because you listened to what I said. Her body language changed. She seemed lighter. When she wasn’t maybe being heard, she had this gloomy look in her eyes, the sunken eyes, her skin look pale. She just didn’t look well. But once we started this whole process, her eyes weren’t sunken anymore. When she was walking, her steps looked lighter versus before they looked heavy.
So it was a whole. Just not the words. Her whole demeanor was light.
RC – Well. And this is why I think we call it mental health. Like it really is about health is’nt it, what you’re describing there?
KD – But all of that also, it projected onto my mental health, right? So all her lightness, I was feeding off of that. But when she was going through a dark time, I was feeding off her dark time, too. Because in the back of my mind, I was always worried about how was she at school, how did anything happen? Like I was constantly worrying and when I noticed that change in her, I changed with her and I went through all the stages with her. So I was lost during that time and then when she got to the other side of this, I was back again.
RC – Which I think is why it’s so important that as parents you go for the counseling it as well.
KD – It’s so important.
RC – Because it’s both of you, because you do feed off of each other like that, whether you think your child’s picking up on it or not? Did Rebecca give you and Sam any techniques like the ball, like the breathing for you to do?
KD – For us, I think the biggest thing was just to make sure we communicate with one another, even if we felt that it was hurtful to the other person. Because obviously there was things in my parenting that I was doing that my husband was like, “You know, I don’t think this is a good idea. And then there was things that he was doing that I’m like, “I don’t think this is a good idea,” but we had to listen to both sides and not judge each other.
RC – Oh, “not judge each other.” That’s great advice even in the best of times, hard.
KD – Yes. So she goes, You guys are going to go through something very difficult, and if you judge each other, if you don’t communicate, you’re going to lose each other even more. So talk to one another. Explain why you feel this. Keep lines of communication open. And we did.
And during that time, also, I just want to point out, when she was going through all this, I sent out a mass text message to everybody that’s in our inner circle. That’s including our really good friends, our family members. And I said, “We’re checking out for a while. You won’t see us because as a family, we need to go through this.”
And I kind of explained what’s happening and everybody was very supportive. I mean, there was a few people that weren’t, but…
RC – Weren’t in agreement with what you were doing?
KD – Yeah, they weren’t in agreement with the counseling. They just thought, “Well, she doesn’t need counseling. Counseling is not real. Counseling actually messes up even more.”
I remember one comment being made, “She’s so young, you’re going to mess up even more.”
RC – So you have to be prepared for that.
KD – You do. You have to be prepared for that. And also, at that time, Sam took a leave of absence from work. I had to step back as a parent. He had to be the main parent.
RC – Was this under the advice of Rebecca?
KD – Yes, from what Rebecca and I, the conversations we were having, it seemed like I was her trigger.
RC – And how did that feel for you? How did it feel for you to be the trigger?
KD – Oh, gosh. To be the trigger. It feels like you’ve messed your child up. And you feel like you’ve done so many wrong things. That you’re a horrible parent. I just took the whole blame that I’ve done something to my child to cause this trigger. And it’s a horrible feeling like you just feel defeated.
And I just felt like, “I’ve ruined I felt like I ruined my child.”
So Sam took the time off work and I became the background parent. I mean, not that he was the background parent to begin with. He was more at work and I was more at home with the girls.
RC – So Rebecca, advised you to step back a bit?
KD – Mm hmm.
RC – I can’t imagine that was because she was saying you need to step back because you’re not doing a good job, or because you’re the cause of this. Why did she want you to step back?
KD – And she explained that to me. She goes, “From what I’m understanding from the conversations, Priya’s biggest anxiousness is that she’s away from mommy. So we’re trying to get her to understand that even though mommy’s not around, she’s still okay. And the way she’s going to learn that is if I let Sam lead some of this stuff. And let him do more of the things that I would normally do with her.
RC – Because what would that do for her with Sam, if you let that happen?
KD – It helps build that relationship with him, right? It helps build that trust and knowing that, “Hey, mommy’s always going to be there and doing it anyways, but daddy can do it too.”
RC – So was it kind of like expanding her trust to more people, that part of what her little soul needed was to trust another adult as well?
KD – Yeah. And I think for him he needed it too, because up until she was about six, eight months, he couldn’t even hold her without her crying. So I think in some way it worked out that it was for him too, without us even realizing it.
And he took six months off and he dropped her off. He picked her up and that was his time to do something with her. And.
RC – And was that hard for you to do?
KD – It was in the beginning because I was constantly messaging. “Is she okay? Just around the corner. Call me.”
But Sam never did. He was like, “No, this is my time. Trust me.”
And I had to. And I did.
RC – And how would she respond when you would be leaving? And as you started to step back a bit, how did she respond?
KD – So initially she would scream every time I left the house. But as time went on, it got easier for her. As the counseling kicked in and the conversations with Rebecca kicked in, the coping mechanisms kicked in. How to deal with all of this kicked in. It got easier and easier.
RC – I think what you’re describing as I’m listening to this, it’s a healthy attachment.
KD – It is.
RC – And attachment, we as parents know that our children need it, that we need it. But knowing that as a parent, you need to take care of yourself and that your child needs to be attached to people other than you as well.
KD – Yeah. That are part of their safe circle.
RC – That are part, yeah.
KD – Yeah. And I think that was a huge thing for Priya to learn that she could trust the safe circle of adults that we allow in the safe circle. Or the people, not just adults, even kids, right?
RC – Yeah, adults and kids, and if anxiety is diminishing a capacity for trust, which I think anxiety often does, well, one, all the more reason to address the anxiety, but also, all the more reason, like you were saying, to have her seeing you show trust. She really needs to see you showing trust as well.
KD – She needs me as well. It’s just all part of the learning.
RC – It’s all part of the learning.
KD – It’s all part of the learning. The day to day learning.
RC – Well, it’s a lot to take in, for any parent. So looking back, you now recognize what could have been anxiety flags right from the beginning, and you started the diagnostic process in grade two. Now she’s in grade eight.
KD – She’s going into grade 8. She’s starting high school.
RC – Is anxiety still a part of her life?
KD – Anxiety is always going to be part of her life. That’s something I’ve had to explain to a lot of people that come to me and they’ll be like, “Oh, is Priya’s anxiety done?”
No, it’s not done. It’s never going to be done. But what she’s learned over the years and she’s going to learn as she matures, is how to deal with it and live with it. So, yeah, she’s doing great. She’s thriving.
RC – How does she feel about you sharing a story like this? I know you check that out with her very carefully.
KD – I did. And she’s okay with it because she does share her story when she wants to. All of her friends circle, they all know she has anxiety because they help her when she’s feeling anxious.
RC – How does that come together?
KD – She’s told them. She’s got an amazing group of friends. I’m so grateful for this group of friends. They always support her. They’ll be like, okay, I can tell you’re feeling a little anxious. They even know the things to look out for. Like, she’ll start going cough cough cough and they’ll pick up on that and they’d be like, “It’s okay. We got you.”
RC – Well, and that’s because our world has changed. In the beginning, we were talking about mental health wasn’t an awareness that many of us had when we were growing up. But there’s so much more talk about it at school now and in families. And that’s the beauty of it. We can support each other like that. I love that.
KD – And I feel like I’m learning from them. And now, in grade seven, when most of these girls are like 13, I remember being in grade 7.
When I listen to her friends talking sometimes they all talk about it so openly about anything that anybody’s going through. It’s such open conversations.
RC – And that’s the change.
KD – And that’s the change. That is the change from when we were young to the new youth that’s coming up. It’s so much love and so much more acceptance. That was never there when we were young, you know, I felt like for me, it was like the popular kids versus the unpopular kids. But that doesn’t exist as much as I could see for her and her school, it didn’t.
RC – No, I think attitudes are slowly changing, it’s amazing to watch. And I think so much of it is is that we are talking so much more about inclusion now, about everybody thinks differently and that’s beautiful. Everybody looks different. That’s beautiful. Everybody has different experiences and being open to that.
There’s a quote that we actually started this podcast with by Mahatma Gandhi that if we want to reach peace in the world, we must begin with the children. And that’s where you see this.
KD – You do.
RC – You start with children, raising them to talk about their health, their feelings, and accepting other people for their feelings and their health and their experiences. And slowly, we start to see the change.
KD – You do. I see it every day in our classroom. I remember this one time the kids were playing in the kitchen corner and they had these little babies and they put them in the oven. And I’m like, “Why are you putting the baby’s in the oven?”
And they’re so innocent, they’re like, “Because we want to bake them so they have the same skin color as you teacher Kam.”
I was like, ahhh.
RC – Oh, I love that.
KD – Right. And I just looked at these kids and I’m like, all right, keep on baking.
RC – And this is the joy of working with young children.
KD – It is.
RC – They remind us of who we want to be and who we can be together. Well sometimes. Not all the time.
KD – Yeah, yeah.
Musical Interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Teacher Kam Dosanjh. There’s more to come.
Our next episode is another side to school separation stress. Separation anxiety is a common part of children’s development. It can start around 8 months of age and usually reaches its peak between 14-18 months, typically going away through early childhood experiences. Gentle encouragement and practices can help children with separation anxiety and in this coming conversation I’m with 3 decade Teaching veteran Bev Bailey, in a conversation we’re calling Tips for Separation Stress At The Start Of School. Join us!
Our next episode is called The Crime Of Living Cautiously. We are with 93-year-old poet and professor Luci Shaw and it’s the last of our 3 repeat episodes for these summer months, and like the previous two, has an additional 20 minutes of newly recorded conversation to augment the original episode. Luci Shaw, in addition to her literary acclaim, teaching and raising 5 children, now has a beautiful bouquet of grand and great-grandchildren and over 35 published books. In this conversation, she addresses the problems associated with living life safe and the courage it takes to be a human being. Join us for her marvelously articulated and well seasoned wisdom.
And now back to Kam – her story of Priya who did not want to go to school – and how they’re doing
RC – So, with Priya, as she continues to mature into adolescence, which has its own complications? How do you provide ongoing support for her so that she can build on what she’s discovering about her anxiety and herself?
KD – So the ongoing support is the counseling. That’s huge for us.
RC – So you’ve continued on with that.
KD – We have, but she comes to us now when she needs it. If she wants to go speak to a counselor, she will tell us and let us know and we work through it together. We go through the steps. What could happen? What couldn’t happen? If she’s trying something new and she’s anxious about it, we talk about, what’s the worst thing that could happen and what’s the best thing that could happen? And that helps her.
But I think the biggest thing for her, and I don’t know if this is right, and I’m still trying to figure out if this is right, that she always has an out.
RC – Hmm. What do you mean by ‘an out’?
KD – An ‘out’ is that she can always call us and we’ll come pick her up from the situation. Like, let’s say it’s the first time going to a new friend’s house, or it’s the first time she’s trying a piano class, or it’s the first time she’s trying to gymnastics class, whatever it is in her life. And if it’s a first time, she always has that out. If she’s not comfortable, she can call us and we’ll come get her.
To this day, she’s never use that out. But for her, for some reason, she needs to know that.
RC – Some parents listening, and even reflecting back to what you said earlier about when she said, “I don’t want to go to school,”
What would your now learned wisdom say when a child says, “Well, I don’t want to go to school,”?
Is an ‘out’, “Then you don’t have to go to school?”
KD – So when she was going through it in the beginning, we didn’t give her that out. It was that real hard parenting like, “I get you don’t want to go to school. I hear you. I see that you’re frustrated. I see that you’re sad, but you’re going to school tomorrow.”
And in the beginning, like I said, we never gave her that out because that out didn’t come until a bit later when we felt she was in a better space and she knew how to work through these emotions. Then we said to her, if something was hard, like, for example, if she had a substitute, now this is totally switched her routine for the day. She would be worried because this substitute doesn’t know about her anxiety. Is this substitute going to know what to do?
So then we would say, “Okay, well you’re going to go to school and if it feels like something’s happening and your world is unraveling, call us and then we’ll see what we can do.” And she never did. Never asked to be picked up. And I think that is important, also knowing that you do have an out. Everybody needs an out.
RC – Yeah. Well children really can feel like they don’t have a lot of control of their worlds.
And especially when you’re anxious, control is what you tend to be wanting to grasp. And that’s something to keep in mind, that often children and, frankly adults, who seem controlling, or stubborn, or defiant, sometimes, maybe even often, the root of that is anxiety, and giving appropriate control is much more helpful than taking control away, and not giving them an out.
KD – And I think that’s why I gave her that, because I felt like she felt like her world was unraveling around her, which it was at that time. And I think she needed something to have control over.
RC – When you look back now, is there anything that you would have done differently that might be helpful for other parents in a similar situation?
KD – Yeah. I think the biggest thing that I would have done differently is I wish I would have intervened sooner. I wish when she was going to preschool and crying every day, that something would have like red flagged that for me versus just notching it down to, “Oh, it’s just a child being a child.”
I feel if I would have intervened at that time, I mean, this is what I think, doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what was going to happen. But I feel maybe she wouldn’t of had such an explosion when she did, because that’s been years of pent up anxiety.
And I wish there was somebody around because when we were going through this, there was nobody in our circle that went through this with their child. It almost felt like we got the broken child and everybody else got, you know, that child that’s happy and going to school, you know, that’s what you feel. So my husband and I were trying to figure it out as we went along.
RC – For you, now that you have gone through this, how has it changed you as a teacher? Because you will see kids coming into your class that cry.
And we know that anxiety is a very prevalent condition in children. How has that changed you as a teacher and how you respond and how you talk to parents?
KD – I can relate. I always tell the parents, “I was on the other side of this.”
And as soon as I start explaining how I felt, the parents just look at me like, “Oh, wow, you’re feeling exactly what I’m feeling. I’m feeling like I’m abandoning my child. I feel like I’m neglecting my child. I feel like I’m being mean by leaving them because they’re crying.”
And I say all these things and They’re just like *bing* like, “Whoa, no, she gets it.”
Because I was on the other side of this and I still am on the other side of it. There’s a lot of prep that goes into getting the school year ready for Priya every year. Every year I have to connect with the school. Every year I connect with the teacher. There’s a lot of background work that I’m still going through.
So when I tell the parents my story, they’re like, “Okay, she gets it,” because sometimes I get emotional, I start crying because it’s still very raw and real for us. When someone’s gone through it we’re all together on this side. We’re like, “Yeah, I got you. Yeah, I get it.”
Then I draw from my story, and I say, “Just trust me. Trust me. We’re going to help you through this and we’re going to help your little one get through this. If it feels like your child’s not going to settle, or if it feels like it’s just not going to be a good day, because we don’t want their child to not have a good day, we’ll call you.”
Once a child has settled in, and usually it is within about the five, ten minute mark. I always call the parent, because I know because I remember being that parent waiting by the school. I know they’re going to call me to come pick them up.”
It does not matter what parent it is, I will pick up the phone and I’ll quickly give them a, “Hey, it’s me.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
“No, no, no. Go grab that coffee. We’re good. We’ll see you at three.”
And that phone call I tell you, Rachel, I don’t know how many I’ve made over the years, it is like the best phone call any parent gets. And they always say, “It’s that phone call. That was the phone call where we knew that this was the right decision,”
The 30 second phone call of, “It’s okay, your child’s okay. We’ll see you at three.”
RC – Well, and this is where schools can partner so closely with parents because when as a family, you’re in a situation where your child doesn’t want to go to school and all the thoughts of attachment are going through your head and thinking even should I be homeschooling? Should I be making them go to school today? We all have different options that we can make.
KD – We do, yeah,
RC – But for many of us, school isn’t an option. We know that we can’t teach our child at home. Financially, we can’t afford to be homeschooling. There’s different reasons. So if our decision is to keep our child in school, we want to be working closely with the school.
KD – That’s the most important.
RC – To know that our child is going to be cared for so well, and that we can trust other people and professionals to be that village that it takes to raise a child.
KD – Exactly.
RC – Well Kam we have to close. There’s so much more I’d like to ask you. There’s so many details to this story, but maybe we can close looking at Priya?
KD – Yeah.
RC – How is she doing now?
KD – She just had her grade seven grad and her teacher asked her to address the parents. So she comes home. She’s like, “Oh, Mom. My teacher asked me,”
and I just looked around like, “Oh, okay. So you’re okay with that?”
“Yeah.” She didn’t even bat an eyelid.
So she addressed the parents. And I remember sitting there and just looking at her because there’s so much more to her story, which obviously we don’t have time for. But I was just looking at it was like, “Wow.”
And her kindergarten teacher was there, as we’re leaving the halls. And she called us, “Did you see that?” And she had tears in her eyes.
I was like, “Yeah”
And she goes, “That’s Pryia, the girl who cried every day and she’s up there addressing the parents. Who would have ever thought that.”
It was such a full circle moment for her kindergarten teacher and myself and my husband. Who would ever thought the girl who said she would rather die than go to school? And she’s standing up there addressing the parents. The same girl who now, when I tell her she’s too sick to school, she begged me to send her to school. This is the same girl.
RC – Well, you used that reference earlier about there being dandelion kids and orchid kids and every child is so beautiful. But when you’re raising an orchid, when you can provide the environment that they need, which does take a lot of care and nurturing.
KD – It does.
RC – They can be spectacular kids.
KD – They can. And she is.
RC – Kam, thank you so much for this conversation. And a huge thank you to Priya as well for letting us share her story.
KD – Thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed it. If you would have asked me when we were going through it, I would have been slamming that door and said, “No way.”
RC – But here you are all these years later and you can.
KD – Yeah, and I’m glad I can, that alone is phenomenal.
RC – Awesome. I think that wraps up our conversation. Thank you.
You’ve heard the quote comparison is the thief of joy?
Anxiety is also a thief of joy. I was listening to this and really feeling for Priya.
We want to save our kids from anxiety and worry and usually, we can’t.
No. We want to save ourselves from anxiety and we can’t. Its a prevasive experience through our lives and Priya had the benefit of learning how to deal with anxiety that will serve her the rest of her life.
I’ve had some brushes with anxiety that robbed me of a couple of years of my life. It was health related issues, and it turned out to be groundless. But it did rob me of joy.
Did you figure out any techniques or practices, like the worry monster?
Do you want to share them.
The biggest thing was I started exercising. I swam, road my bike, but the main thing is I started walking every morning.
You love your morning walks. What else.
The exercise was a big help, and then like Priya, breathing…taking time to chill and not living in a head-long push for resolve and productivity.
Don’t you have a breath app on your watch?
Yeah, deep breaths, slow breathing.
Mark Twain says worry is also a thief of time – that we can spend so much time anxious about things that actually never happen.
And we’re going to end with Mark Twain. I like him because I can always understand him.
Yes well he’s very accessible to you common folk.
I’ll take common any day.
Here’s what he wrote.
Worry is like paying a debt you don’t owe.
Don’t just sit there
Be proactive. Do something – anything – about what’s worrying you so you can gain information, focus and control over the situation.
Take action when you feel that worry is creeping in to steal your time.
It need not be a huge action,
any action in the direction you want to go will do.
I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened