How to Mother a Child with Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is something that is oh-so-real in many children’s lives. Some children find it very difficult to be separated form their moms, even for s short period of time. But, in during baby days the child may have had a completely different attitude.

mothering a child with separation anxiety

When you left your baby for a few hours wiht your mom, she may have made no fuss at all. In fact, you wondered if your baby even realized you were gone, but then it happened.

Around 10 months of age, or maybe a little younger, your child began to realize that something was not normal when you say “Bye” with a kiss. Mommy had left the building, and separation anxiety takes over. If your child has separation anxiety she may begin screaming, kicking or frantically hitting the caregiver in outbursts of anger.

Here is the testimony of one mother:

“My son was always a mild-tempered child. He never seemed to mind the fact that I had to leave him for a few hours to go on a date with my husband or to go to a doctor’s appointment. However, one day he just went berserk. As I began to leave, he started running around like a screaming banshee. I had no idea how to respond to this irrational behavior!

I felt so guilty I went straight back to him and held him for so long. Then I decided to just take him with me. The tears stopped and all was better. But when I had another engagement to attend, the scene was replayed. Again, I was unprepared and clueless what the proper reaction should be.”

When children have melt-downs, it is so difficult to know just how to mother your child. Many times the mother allows her emotions to make her decisions instead of thinking it through. Here are some guidelines that involve the head and the heart in dealing with separation anxiety in small children.

  • Make your exit short. Drawing out the good-byes with extra kisses, questions and instructions only make the situation worse. Let your little one know you will be back and that you love them. Keep it simple and sweet.
  • Explain the time of your return in kid terms. Toddlers can’t tell time, so make your return more relevant to them by saying you will be back before dinner or around nap time. This will make the child feel a little secure since she has an idea of the time frame you will return home.
  • Plan a special activity. If your child has a favorite DVD or loves to color, have that activity prepared before you leave. Re-direct him to the activity as you say good-bye. Remind how much fun he will have as he gets to color in this special book or watch the special movie.
  • Don’t sneak out. This can cause a child not to trust their parent. It can cause insecurities and fears. Always say good-bye.
  • Assign a task. As you leave, ask your child to open the door for you. Then ask him to close the door. Little ones are excited when they get to “help” mommy accomplish her special errand. You could also ask him to draw you a picture of something specific. Tell her you two can color the picture together when you return. Then, display the picture for the whole family to enjoy!
  • Have a signature good-bye. Create a good-bye signature for you and your little one. This could be two kisses and a high-five or three bear hugs followed by an eskimo kiss. This new tradition will give your child security and a little something to treasure and look forward to when she has to say good-bye.
  • Make the reunion special. Upon your return, smother your little one with hugs, kisses and affection. Don’t check your email first or answer your cell phone. Those things can wait. Show your child you missed her and make her feel abundantly loved. These sweet reunions will give your little one something to anticipate!

These are just a few ideas that may work for your child. Have you had any success in dealing with a child with separation anxiety? We would love to hear it in the comments section! We can always learn something new!

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Comments

  1. says

    I would love to hear what you think of older children…kindergarten and first graders with similar anxieties…any tips for helping them deal with being away from home? My first grader is really going through a tough time dealing with the longer school days.

    Catherine

    • says

      Wow, Catherine. That is a great question.

      I have been blessed to stay-at-home with my kids and home-school them so I never had to deal with staying away from them for school time.
      However, there were times when they were in a Bible club or some other activity. Normally, I was the one most apprehensive about them being without me:)

      While working with kids in day-cares and schools, I did observe a few things that I noticed parents did to ensure their kids were secure in being at school for an extended period of time. Some thoughts were:

      Make the time with your kids at home count. Try to focus on ONLY your child when he comes home from school–nothing else. If you need to plan less hands-on meals, then do it! Crock-pot ones are great or pre-frozen homemade dishes you can just pop in the oven and sit and read a book together.

      Also, try staying in tune with his school life. Ask about friends, teachers etc. Reward for good grades and attend all special events.

      If your child begins to hate school, you may want to consider home-schooling for a while to see if that helps things. I know it may seem scary, but it is possible. There are so many helps and home-school groups where your child could be involved in activities, field trips etc. Plus, you wouldn’t have to be separated for such a long time. If you ever have any questions, feel free to email me at alison.pintsizedtreasures@gmail.com

      I am not pushing homeschooling as I believe there are more important things in life, and that also home-schooling is not an option for everyone, but sometimes it is the perfect answer to separation anxiety!

      Most of all, pray for your child. If home-schooling is not an option, pray God will give them security and will provide good friends and the perfect teacher. If you have a choice of schools for him to attend, ask for God’s guidance. It’s amazing what the Lord will do when we just ask him!

      Thanks so much for asking this great question.

    • Stacey B says

      When my daughter was younger we would draw a picture each morning on a half sheet of paper. She would draw a picture on one side and I would write her a note on the other side with a few pictures. My side always said something like ‘mommy loves Cami’ . She would fold this paper small enough for her to fit in her pocket. That way she always had me with her. Another thing we did was I kissed her palms. And when she missed me she could put Mommy’s kisses on her cheek or her head.

    • Cc says

      I see this is an older post but I feel it’s important to add that that Separation Anxiety is different than Separation Anxiety Disorder. Separation Axiety typically lasts between 10-20 months. My daughter, who was a first grader this past school year, had Separation Anxiety as a baby/toddler, but then it never went away. We have begun therapy to help her with this, as it is now become Seperation Anxiety Disorder. This is a very real thing.

  2. Lindsey says

    I have a 4 year old in pre school to prepare for kindergarten. she cries every day at school and will cry for the whole 3 hours some days. The teachers don’t recommend taking her out but it is disruptive to the other kids. She is fine going to a babysitters or with a babysitter coming over. She is fine in sunday school. She says she likes school and likes her teachers and the kids! I dont know how to get her to stop crying.

    • RR says

      I teach MDO. I have a little boy this year who acted this very way.
      1. Please, come up with a way that you leave. Do it every time and do not drag it on. Tell a child goodbye give kisses and go! Do not come into the classroom, or give final instructions. Your child knows what’s what and is delaying you as long as possible. 2. Buy your child a watch and mark the pick up time and tell them you will be back at that time. Do NOT be late. 3. Get to class on time so that he comes in with classmates.

  3. ErinJ says

    I think kids take cues from their parents too. If you act anxious about leaving them then it can make them feel uneasy. I have always tried to be confident and like it was no big deal. Luckily all 5 of mine have done great!

    • Glynis says

      I agree that mums need to be short & sweet saying goodbye! Not swayed by screaming toddlers, who often stop their screaming moments after mummy leaves!

      I’m a grandmother of a 3yr old, whose anxiety seems to be getting worse lately, screaming when her mother leaves for work. Fortunately for me, she stops very quickly!

      It’s just a phase that almost every child goes through and some are better at getting through it than others! It all depends on their personalities!

  4. says

    I love your suggestions, Alison. My younger son had major separation anxiety issues when he was little. It was so difficult on everyone – him, my, the person I had to leave him with (usually my mom or a friend). Thankfully, he outgrew it and became a very outgoing child. I wish I’d thought of the “signature goodbye” idea. I think that’s brilliant!

    • says

      Thank you , Jackie! Your words were so sweet! Yes, the signature good-bye is a big help! I have always been a SAHM, but when I had to leave my son for a doctor’s appointment or special date, we had many not-so-wonderful situations when we had to say good-bye. These ideas really helped him! My daughters were like, “Bye Mom! Have fun!” Thank you for sharing with your readers! )

  5. Crissy says

    Great ideas! Any suggestions on how I can modify them for my 22 month old? She’s old enough to know when I’m about to leave her somewhere, but too young to really understand that mommy will be back and when. I’m hoping the signature goodbye will help, but are there some other tips for the littles? Our toughest struggle right now is when I leave her at the church nursery. She absolutely screams bloody mary, and they usually end up pulling me from service to get her because she’s so upset.

  6. Skye says

    As a child care educator I regularly see children suffer from separation anxiety and most are distracted and happily occupied within 5 minutes, some take take longer and need constant reminders that mummy will come back. A short sweet good bye is defiantly preferred to parents sneaking out for once the child notices there’s not much to consol them with. My own child suffered on and off over the last few years but my confidence in his careers was picked on by him and he settled again

  7. says

    My oldest girl who is 9 yrs old now has always struggled with separation anxiety. I did as a child too and so did my mother. While my daughter still goes to school etc it is still hard on her. It’s not always resolved just by age as my anxiety actually worsened when I was 11 thru 13 years old and became more aware that my mom could die in a car accident. I still struggle with anxiety as a 40 yr old woman, just not about separating from my mother. It’s a tough road dealing with anxiety.

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