Adoption and Family

A Child’s Separation Anxiety Story

By Ainsley Schuck

My daughter wrote this recently for a school project. I asked for her permission to share it here. This was her reflection for art about separation anxiety and how starting school felt when she was 6.

That girl right there is trapped. She’s trapped in her own feelings. She’s stuck inside that bottle and can’t break free. That bottle is so full and it is ready to explode. This is how most kids feel. Did you know 12% of kids experience separation anxiety once, or many times, before reaching the age of 18? This is what the girl in the picture was going through when she started the 1st grade.

The art that goes with it

She felt like everyone around her was angry and she couldn’t understand why. The girl constantly was asking herself “what am I doing wrong?” She wanted to fix it, but had no idea how.

Separation Anxiety is Heavy

Imagine someone is pouring cement on your feet to keep you in one place so they can talk down to you.


Look at the blues. In her head, the blues represent deep feelings. Anxiety feels like when you put books in your backpack and it gets heavy, and when you continue to add books your bag will weigh a ton. Now of course when you take some out it gets lighter, but for her those books never managed to make their way out of the bag. Keep in mind she’s 6 turning 7, that bag would probably weigh more than her body weight.

When Feelings Are Colours

The red in the piece represents anger. People are yelling and arguing with her for no reason, making it unimaginably hard to transition into elementary school. Those silhouettes are blank, because at the time the girl was trying to figure out what she was actually feeling, so those silhouettes become blank, faceless, unknown. Those silhouettes didn’t even try to make a bond. They just showed her how flawed she was.

That purple inside that bottle is her little bit of happiness trying to shine through but it’s smothered by the dark blues, blacks, reds, and greens. She’s 6, but she’s facing something that is way beyond her age, that should never happen, but yet it did and those mistakes can never be forgotten.

1 in 5 Struggle with Anxiety or Depression

They can never be reversed and they will never be forgiven. Anxiety is many things: it’s scary, it’s challenging, and it’s something kids and many adults suffer from in their lifetime.

Anxiety comes in all different forms, there are many types like separation anxiety and it is very real.

No one should have to go through what that girl in the picture did. so next time you meet someone with this diagnosis don’t be the silhouette. Instead, be their friend and make sure they feel safe in the environment.

You can overcome anxiety. You can hide behind it forever, or you can live in your past experiences. It’s up to you to decide and make your difference, not others around you.

The End

This morning I took this photo. I didn’t know she had written this yet

Mom’s Note

Often, I think my kids are brave and I tell them that and they sometimes don’t believe me. But, this is one example of her bravery just getting to school. Ainsley has SPD (sensory processing disorder) and FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder). Her symptoms look like ADHD symptoms and she had a lot of separation anxiety as a young child.

Her Perception

Ainsley mentioned how that time period felt when we were driving home from school just the other day. I had all but blocked that transition out of my mind, because it happened long ago. Also I believed we dealt with separation anxiety at school and moved on. Now I am questioning that.

It made me a bit sad, because I recall having SO many school transition meetings. She stayed in a private preschool for as long as we could manage and after senior kindergarten we needed to make the switch to grade one. So, meeting after meeting took place.

What I Recall..

I remember years of staggered entry and school days that ended early to see if she could manage fewer hours and me sitting in the hallway outside the class doing Willbarger brushing protocol and arguing at length for an EA to help every year. HOURS upon HOURS of this. In fact, I recall a principal that was kind and one that was VERY MUCH the opposite of that. Teachers that were sweet and helpful and others that were TRULY disappointing.

And I remember very well the faces of other parents who gave a sympathetic look, or a kind smile to me, to us.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Gingermommy

    I love that she wrote this! We often hear about different disorders and anxiety etc but not always first hand. Having delt with my own anxiety I can only imagine how a child felt going through it. We learn ways to cope. Your girls are both so great in so many ways!

    • Paula

      Thanks so much Kim! I think they are both brave kids and definitely there’s a lot of people with anxiety out there. It makes me sad to hear that she thinks people are so incapable of accepting kids with mental health challenges. The world needs to do better at that.