When my son crawled in bed with me and my husband for the third time in one week, I was no longer amused by his regression. He was never the clingy kid who hated to be alone or looked back when I dropped him off at school. My 4-year old had always been independent, dropping my hand the second he saw a friend or toy that was more interesting.
Since he was 6 weeks old, I'd been dropping him off at the day care in our gym so I could work out. He has always loved the caregivers there—and the Legos—so he never complained. However, around the time he started joining us in bed because he was "scared to be alone," I also found him sobbing in the gym daycare because he was "afraid I was never coming back."
"He's gotten so emotional," our babysitter said, after telling me that he cried all through art class and demanded that she stand right by the door so he could see her at all times.
What was happening to my carefree little guy?
I poked around on the Internet about anxiety in little kids and every resource for parents said that in a kid his age, anxiety kicks up if there is a transition like moving, divorce, loss of a pet or changing schools. We had none of that.
Desperate for some understanding about what was making my kid so anxious, I asked his teacher if she'd noticed anything.
"A couple of the kids are struggling. It started when the school closed because of the active shooter threat."
I felt terrible about the burden he has to carry. And I can't seem to get it off his shoulders.
We looked at the calendar: my son's school closed for a day in November. The teachers were not going to tell his pre-kindergarten class the details, but when the children returned after the closure, a few of them knew the details from their older siblings. Thus, during circle time, my 4-year old and his buddies learned that a man with a gun had threatened to shoot people. The teachers reported that the children sat rapt and terrified as they considered the possibility that someone could hurt them right in their classroom.
Right after that, my son had his first meltdown at the gym and started coming to our bedroom at night.
While I was happy to have some clarity about what triggered his anxiety, I felt terrible about the burden he has to carry. And I can't seem to get it off his shoulders.
I've assured him that he's safe, but at 4, he already knows there are limits to my promises. The police took care of our community and no one got hurt back in November, but now he's aware of threats and how serious they are. He understands that really bad things could happen. He might even realize that they actually do happen.
Now, my husband and I walk the line between being gentle with him as he works through an anxiety that's too big for him to handle without veering into overprotective mode that will keep him from growing through this.
Most of the time, I worry that I'm not striking the right balance.
I hate that he and other children have to carry this burden of fear and anxiety. I want them to be free to worry about kid stuff, like what color plate they want for snack or which book to read first. But those days have vanished for my son, and I pray for them to return.