As a mother myself, I know the heart tearing and guilt of watching your child struggle with leaving you.
I also know the joy that comes from watching them skip merrily to their new destination, turning for a wave and off they go..
I’ve found that more often than not, it’s not the thought of you leaving their side that has them uncomfortable, but it is the thought of “what do I do without you”..
Small children lack the frontal lobe development to help them analyse an environment and make the next best decision for them. This means quite often, it’s the unknown in their new environment that has them holding onto you. Their minds get overwhelmed with what to do next, or what steps to take without your lead, so holding onto you becomes their safety net.
So how do we help them overcome the fear of the unknown?
Here are some handy tools I’ve found useful for children over the years:
- Steps 1,2,3! – Let them know the next steps to take on their own. i.e. When you get there- 1. walk in the gate, 2. walk up to “activity/location/person” 2. kiss good bye to mummy.
- Keep drop offs consistent. Try and drop them off to the same person and to the same activity. This is particularly useful for small children at daycare.
- Let them know exactly when you get back. Sometimes we forget that particularly with 2-6 year olds, they don’t have the foresight to know when exactly you will be coming back! “Remember I’ll be back after late afternoon snack/ sleep time/ the big hand gets to the 3”
- For older children, let them know every human gets nervous leaving their comfort zone. Again find 3 steps to cope – “when you’re nervous 1. take a deep breath, 2. look for a familiar face, 3. tell yourself you can do this” . repeat!
- If the anxiety is at home – reiterate the routine you do with them. If you’re worried, do steps 1,2,3 and I’ll be home at this time. While I’m gone you can do 1.2 or 3.
- “I’m in your heart and you’re always in mine”.. I love this chat and I find it so incredibly powerful. The purpose is to let the child know that we are always connected, no matter how far away we are from each other. Love stretches like an invisible cord, always connecting us. On either end, I’m in your heart and you’re in mine.. “can you feel my heart giving yours a squeeze?!”. I told this story to my Kobi when he was 18m old and we were having changes at daycare and moving house at the same time. I would pick him up and ask “did you feel me cuddling your heart today? I felt you cuddling mine!”
Be patient with them and remember separation anxiety can also mask itself as silliness, laziness and/or anger at you.. look at the feelings behind the behaviour. Your intuition as your childs parent comes in handy here.
I truly hope that these tools help you and your child more through that separation anxiety and out the other side..
I would love to hear how you go!
Warmth and joy,