Separation Anxiety

"How do you increase a 3 yr. old's independence while participating in a small group of children and a teacher, without his parents present. My child refused to stay and cried hysterically when I said I would have to pick him up later. I've decided to stay in the class as a low-profile helper for now, but none of the other 3yr old's seem to need their parents so much. Any suggestions?"

"This question is a combination of two inquiries we've recently received that are very close in nature. One mother wrote of her 3 1/2 year old daughter: "If I leave her sight she cries and is afraid that I am not coming back. How can I work on building a secure relationship with her?" Another mother said her 11 month old: "Doesn't like me to leave the room. I've tried to keep my son in the same room when I'm working or cooking, but he cries and tries to climb up my leg." Both of these parents have said they'd like to get your comments on how you've handled separation anxiety.

"We had a very difficult time with our daughter, from 2 1/2 to 3 years, each week for a Mothers Day Out program. There were days I would end up teary after I left her, at seeing her so distraught. Several things helped ease the situation.
1. I'd talk to her a little bit for a couple of nights before the day, about the kind of things she could look forward to doing when she got to day-care. The teachers were helpful in telling me about upcoming craft projects, or whatever, to build some anticipation.
2. That morning, as we were getting ready to leave, I'd talk about what was planned for when she came home, to help bridge the `leaving' back to the `coming home'. Something extra-fun, like cookie baking, was often helpful.
3. I packed family pictures in he lunch, to pull out if she felt lonely, and told he we loved her and she'd see the `real' us soon.

4. Lastly, I drew five clocks on a sheet of paper, one for each hour until I returned. Every hour she and a teacher would cross off one clock, providing a visualization of my return. I knew that had been a good technique, when the next fall we stopped by to see the teachers from our difficult year, and one was explaining the same technique to a mom with a very unhappy little boy! Meantime, we were at last done with that phase, though at the time it seemed it was interminable!"

"Regarding the 3 year old who didn't want his mother to leave him, my 3 year old twins were the same way. Continue to expose him to groups while you are there and then try groups where you leave. He'll cry and scream for you when you go, but after the separation he'll settle into the group and turn his attention to the children or teacher. To make the separation easier, a friend of mine always read a short book to her son before she left his play group. The routine worked and he rarely cried after that."

"Try to keep in mind that every child reacts differently to new situations. In our parent/child classes, my first child hardly gave me a backward glance as we said good-bye. My second child clung to me and screamed. I also stayed in the classroom until he was ready to stay alone. Each week was a little easier. Also verbalize that Mommy ALWAYS comes back. All your extra effort now, will pay off for both of you."

"As a frequent toddler attendant at our church, I have watched the scene of parents leaving their children often. It is the same kids every week who cry and fuss at their parents leaving them. And it's always those parents who make a big deal of leaving their kids. If the parents would just leave their child, say good-bye, hug and kiss, assure them they'll be back later and LEAVE, all would be fine. But from the very beginning these parents would hug their children several times, go in the room as well and make a big fuss. Drop them off and go! The longer you hang around, the longer the child expects and wants it. Also, never say in front of the child, `If he/she keeps crying, just come get me,' etc. This tells the child that if they carry on long enough, the parent will be brought back. I've also noticed most of these parents who have a hard time leaving their child off are first time parents."

"For the younger children one suggestion might be to play peek-a-boo. That way they get used to mom `hiding' for short periods of time and you can gradually work up to longer times. they will eventually realize that mom will always be back."

"From the time my son was born, he would only be held by his dad or I. I can't begin to tell you how much stress this caused me!I was convinced that it was my fault and that I had, somehow, failed as a mother. I finally realized it was his personality, not my parenting ability. I had to learn to accept that he was a `High Demand' child. To begin with, you'll have to accept the fact that things are going to take you longer than they used to. then you have to learn to accept your child for who he is and that you can't change him; but you can make it easier for him. Be sympathetic to his needs but, at the same time, don't forget your own! You and your husband have to get away. It took, literally, months for my son to get used to me going away. When you do go, do it in a calm and matter-of-fact manner that will show that you are in control of the situation. Don't linger when you say good-bye. I've also found that the right babysitter makes a real difference. Many of them were intimidated by him and tried too hard to comfort him. My sitter let's him know that I'll be back, asks him if he wants to be held and if not, she goes on doing what she normally would. After a few minutes of crying at the back door, he realizes that he can't change the situation and he'll go play. I'm happy to say now that when he was about 20 months old, he finally pulled out of it."

"My eighteen month old daughter needs a lot of reassuring but I believe she's beginning to understand me when I explain that I'll be right back. I do a lot of talking about where I'm going and what we'll do when I return. I also think that a child needs to let us know that we are going to be missed."

"I am starting to experience this as well with my 9 month old. She is very clinging. Because she is my 4th, I know that this phase will pass. So I don't let it upset me too much. Sometimes taking 5 minutes and holding her and giving her my undivided attention is all it takes. then she will happily play with the other children."

"Eleven months old is young enough to be carried along (front/back pack). I think he is needing your presence and should be accommodated as much as possible. With both children, consider whether they actually do get enough personal attention from you (they read attention and holding as love). You can play with puppets or dolls with the older child (scenarios like what will happen; how does the girl puppet feel; will the mamma puppet return soon, etc.)."

"First of all, separation anxiety is a good sign that a child is developing a healthy relationship with the parents. When I would go out of the room, I would talk to my daughter while I was gone which would reassure her that I hadn't disappeared."

"Chances are that your 3 1/2 year old stops crying after you leave. Let the care giver in on some special things she likes to do. Get her interested in something else. Have them go out for a walk, read a book, play, etc. The best thing is to not let the crying or what ever get to you. This behavior will disappear over time. I've heard that if you leave something with them that is yours, they realize that you will come back for it and of course for them as well."

"To the mother of the 3 1/2 year old: Start leaving her at home with someone she knows (and who has a lot of patience), and go out for progressively longer periods each time you leave. Explain to her where you are going and that you will be back in a little while, and then leave and don't worry. Your daughter needs to adjust to being away from you as much as you need to get out on your own. To the mother of the 11 month old: Try putting him in a playpen in view of the area where you are working or cooking. Then you can be free to move around and he'll still be able to see you. After a while he'll want to be out exploring on his own, and then you'll have a new set of problems."

"Build a routine around leaving, like at bed time, so it becomes familiar to them that you leave, but will return."

"What I hear in your question is that it is bad is your child cries and struggles. I suggest putting the primary focus on yourself and not your child. Perhaps you have been co-dependent with you child since birth and are now seeing the result - an overly dependent child. Children need to make their sounds and have their process with life. Life is not easy, there are times every day when I need to do something that ma not fit with the agenda that my child has at that particular moment. I find that it is important for me to pay attention to what is being triggered in me, notice what is going on with him and continue to take care of myself. This is not easy. Learning to let go while being with yourself is a big part of parenting, and living for that matter."

"These type of children require a great deal of time, love and reassurance. When you leave these children, kiss and cuddle them and tell them you will be back. Then leave quickly and leave them with someone who can cuddle them and continually reassure them that you will be back. Be patient and you will build a secure and trusting relationship."

"The best thing I can suggest is to `give in' to these children's needs to be with you. When the child feels his needs are being met, they will be less `clingy.' You may feel somewhat suffocated at first, but it will get better sooner than you think."

"The best idea I have ever used regarding separation anxiety is that each time, or every other time I would leave the room or house (depending on how or what upsets her) I would stop and tell her exactly where I am going and when I'll be back. I then kiss her and go. Then when I did come back I'd remind her that although I left, I did come back. Even if my daughter fussed as I left, I still would go because I needed to build her trust instead of sneaking away to avoid upsetting her."

"The most important thing to remember is not to force the separation or buy into the notion that your child needs to learn to `tough it out.' My 3 1/2 year old daughter was still screaming in fear when I left her in the car seat to walk around the car to the drivers seat. I was frustrated! My husband and I decided on two things - We needed to believe she would someday be OK being away from us (and not worry about when). That helped me relax. Secondly, our daughter needed to believe the same thing! We started affirming to her that, `Someday soon, whenever you're ready, you won't be so scared and will be able to be in the other room (or wherever) by yourself.' Children have their own time line. If we just let them live it, and believe in it, they will be OK."

"Hap Palmer has a tape and/or video called BABY SONGS. The songs deal with true to life issues that children face (potty training, sharing, dressing, etc.). One of the songs deals with security in parents leaving. We tried many techniques for separation anxiety but this song worked wonders with our daughter."

"This is a big one for me and my son is only 3 months old! At this point it works well to have him in a cloth sling with me. That way his need for closeness is met, and I have both hands free! I think this need continues for some kids beyond what we as parents may find usual, or convenient. It could be that having an older child help you with a simple dinner-related tasks (folding napkins, etc.) may keep your son occupied, close to mom and feeling a sense of accomplishment."

"At 18 months, my daughter began crying when I left. So we made a game of leaving. We told her to run to her window, so we could wave and `blow' kisses. Now she races to her window to wave bye-bye and doesn't she a tear. She `knows' I'll be back after that. I started with short trips - even just around the block and built up to a whole evening."

"The trick is to get the child accustomed to a care taker on a gradual basis, while you are still present. Once that's accomplished, leave your child with that person for a very short time, even if only for 10 minutes or so. Of course you need to reassure the child that you'll be back soon. Work your way up to longer periods of absence. It may not be pleasant at first, but you have to keep working at it. Don't give up!"

"There are a couple of ways you could start. First, when the child is playing or distracted with something else, slip out of the room and come back a few minutes later and make it known that he/she was alone and how proud you are that he/she was a big girl or boy to stay alone. Second, have the father or someone in the room with the child and leave for a few minutes. Even if the child has a tantrum, stay out of sight. Gradually increase the time that you leave. Soon they will be confident that you are still around and will come back."

"I had the same problem with my son. It seems to go in stages; sometimes he has problems with me leaving and other times he pushes me out the door. I believe that one of the most important factors of being separated from your child is the care-giver that you leave him/her with. If the child senses that you are anxious about leaving, they will not feel comfortable either. You must have complete trust in whomever you leave your child with. Most of all, assure him/her that you love them and you will be back."

"Separation anxiety is a tough issue. It's a plague to a parent who needs some quiet, alone time. The only ray of sunshine in this is that it usually means the parent has provided love and care to the child, who tightly bonded. Hang in there!"

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