Have you ever experienced dropping off your child somewhere and all of the sudden, all hell breaks loose? The screaming, the clinging, the tears…. holy cow, you’ve never felt more loved in all your life! At the same time, it’s so sad and all you want is for them to be happy without you constantly being there. I always say, I want my child to want me, but I don’t want him to feel like he needs me. Since my son Jonas was four months old, he’s struggled being without mom or dad or someone he knows. He’s now eighteen months old and we’ve made a ton of progress over the last few months in this department, so I want to share some tips that have really helped!
Continue putting the child in situations that are uncomfortable for them (AKA a situation that doesn’t involve mom and dad). In other words: practice, practice, practice! This is SO much easier said than done especially when week after week, your child’s number flashes on the screen during the church service indicating that they’re having a stage five meltdown (maybe that’s just us). I truly believe that even though it took FOREVER for us to get to the place we are now, one of the main things that helped was continuing to put Jonas in the nursery knowing that he would scream his little lungs out. It allowed him to eventually get comfortable with the room, volunteers, and he started to learn that mom and dad always come back!
Help prepare them so they know what to expect when entering an uncomfortable situation. You can do this by talking to them about what’s going to happen and make the situation sound exciting! We are involved in ECFE (Early Childhood and Family Education) classes each week and once Jonas turned one, we started to do separation during class. The moms leave the kiddos in the room with the teachers and go into another room where we can see them through a one way window. Jonas would absolutely lose it every single week and it was heartbreaking to hear and see. His teachers really wanted to work with him on this, so they made a book with pictures showing the schedule for class each week so he would know what to expect. We would read it together several times during breakfast before class and would bring it with. Once we separated, the teachers then would show him the book again. Here’s what the book looked like:
The picture above cracks me up!
The picture above cracks me up too! See all the parents I’m talking to?!
Jonas may have been a little young yet to really understand this, but I think it could be extremely helpful for a child a little bit older. Every time we leave him, we always say “mommy and daddy will come back” and I think he really does understand that now!
Anytime your child isn’t with you, let them have a lovey or comfort item. For Jonas, Bob the bear is that person. He sleeps with Bob at nap time and every night and is pretty much obsessed with him. When I started bringing Bob to ECFE and the church nursery, Jonas started doing SO much better! You can also give them something that smells like you for comfort (for example, a shirt you’ve worn).
Be patient with them. Recognize that separation anxiety may or may not be a phase. It could also just be a part of their personality and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It means they are cautious and they don’t trust everyone. It could really end up protecting them in the long run. It also means they feel loved by you and comfortable with you which is a GOOD thing (this is NOT at all to say that child without separation anxiety doesn’t feel loved!). Being patient with them also involves giving them a chance to warm up in new and uncomfortable situations. For us, that means having whoever is babysitting come over early so he can warm up to them. If we are going to an unfamiliar place, it means explaining to people that want to hold or hug him right away upon arrival, that it takes him time to warm up so give it about a half hour before trying. This can be really frustrating for friends and family and they may feel like your child hates them. I always struggle with feel embarrassed when Jonas doesn’t want to engage with someone that I know loves him so much! But, the reality is that Jonas is a total mama’s and daddy’s boy… and that’s okay! We socialize him and we continue putting him in situations he may not be comfortable with. That’s all we can do!
Don’t sneak away when you’re leaving your child! Always say goodbye and that you will come back. If you sneak away when they aren’t looking, they can’t really learn the concept that mommy and daddy always come back! Just make sure that your child is engaged in an activity when you say goodbye so it isn’t too dramatic.
A combination of all these tips have really helped Jonas be more adaptable when it comes to not being with mom and dad. He still struggles with it and is far from perfect, but has come a long way. Has your child ever struggled with separation anxiety? If so, what has been helpful in working through it with them?