By all accounts I am a tried and tested mother, have already cooled my chin on two children of kindergarten age and happily enrolled them in school, have been through countless childhood illnesses, parenting experiments and acts of desperation, and yet am confronted with the classic separation anxiety in children for the third time with the golden child. Oh yes. All my triple mom experience didn’t save me from this, it had to happen with her too, and like big sister, it seems to be the classic daycare age when it hit the little one too.
She doesn’t want to say goodbye at the daycare center, although she obviously likes being there very much. She doesn’t want to go out for pizza with her siblings and grandparents alone, even though she loves them all and trusts them deeply. She doesn’t want to go to the circus with her beloved godmother (and siblings), even though it’s one of her favorite adventures and the godmother is also a favorite person in her little world. Each time it requires a kind of ritualized conversation in which she hedges her bets, cries a little, calms down again and clings to me – to then go along or. to stay at the daycare o.a. What’s going on? Is separation anxiety in children inevitable even for the most casual among them (and the most casual parents)?
According to my research, all parents actually know the. In variations, we have all experienced separation anxiety in children. And those who claim that this never applies to them and their children are the same ones who say that their baby slept through the night at 6 weeks of age. Not very believable. In reality, we experience the following: in phases, our children are the coolest little people imaginable. They come and go, quite the independent little people you think you’ve already "made" them into. And suddenly, for no apparent reason, it’s all over. The same little people who just left the house alone to go play with the neighbor’s children suddenly can’t move a meter away from their parents’ skirt.
This is unsettling. It is exhausting. It permanently challenges the parents. And let’s be honest: it is also annoying from time to time. Because hand in hand with the independence of the children goes the (renewed) freedom of the parents: Freedom of movement, the luxury of being alone, self-determination – at least for moments. After three children, I can tell you a thing or two about how great the longing for this freedom becomes during the long years of attachment parenting.
A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. This applies to children as well as parents. And so I have compiled here my most important personal experiences in dealing with separation anxiety in children, in the hope that they may be helpful to other parent-child constellations.
1. Love, understand, give space.
When an anxious child doesn’t want to separate, it often tears the affected parent’s heart apart. Too right! Leaving a sobbing child at the door to the daycare group room is not a good start to the day, for anyone involved. Provided that the daycare center is not the reason for the tears, but it is what I call in this article more basically separation anxiety in children, which probably even occurs regularly and in different contexts, there is only one answer to this for me: love, understanding and calmness.
That’s easy to say, but I know what I’m talking about: I had to acquire an attitude towards it for three children and have only now, with the third, found something like a kind of composure. Hard fought. Took years. Of course, this helps me not to doubt everything right away – my child, the contexts, myself. And that’s what I mean by calm: if the kid is already freaking out, it doesn’t help to freak out yourself too. Rather, my child needs the certainty that she can calmly freak out, that she is allowed to cry and get upset because I, the mommy, can endure it and remain calm in the process. The golden child, the third of my children with current separation anxiety phase, needs very specifically my open arms to throw in and cry, my Understanding for these bad feelings and the security of being loved anyway, no matter how she behaves. She gets this space from me and from her dad.
What is important here is one’s own authenticity: the child is ok, despite freaking out – but I am also ok, no matter how the other parents (supposedly) look while I’m squatting there on the ground with my crying girl in my arms.
2. Less is more.
In such phases it does us good to strengthen the basis and to reduce everything else as much as possible, and by basis I mean the a secure basis for my child: the relationship with us, the parents, which gives him the ground on which he can stand and walk. It doesn’t help to stubbornly stick to certain routines that suddenly seem to be fearful. What sense does it make to leave a crying child in the ballet hall, just because the dance teacher insists that it is not bad to stay alone in the hall, that mom will come back and that it is the rule that mothers have to wait outside?? I don’t want to fundamentally question this old ballet hall rule, because of course it makes sense not to hold the class with 20 mothers in the room. But for this child and his mother/father it makes no sense at all at this moment. For us, less is more means fewer appointments, less input, fewer external rules (at least none that don’t have to be), fewer "strange" adults, maybe even less daycare time, if that can be arranged. Instead, more breaks, more time in the family, more going back to basics. And when the acute phase is over (yes, it passes, I know it does!), you can increase the activities and the radius again.
3. Fear comes from the belly, no smart head can help.
Separation anxiety in children is above all what anxiety always is: irrational. It doesn’t help my child if I talk into him or her and appeal to his or her rationality, possibly even pointing out that he or she is already grown up or that nothing bad is happening. My child’s fear comes from the gut, he can’t explain it and I can’t talk it away. Every adult with fears knows that they sometimes seem unmanageable, but at least we usually know that our fears are irrational, even if the knowledge doesn’t do us much good. A four-year-old child does not even have this knowledge. So how can he approach his fears with reason??
The golden child calls his fear of letting go, of saying goodbye, "the fright". She points to her belly, puts both hands on top of each other at the level of the diaphragm and says: "I have a fright, mummy!" And I know that feeling so well, I can remember what it was like to have "the fright". Nothing is worse than being at the mercy of it and not being able to do anything about it. All explaining brings and brought nothing, because the little head does not come against the fright and so I have thought up a tiny little magic spell for my child. So when we have to say goodbye and she realizes that her fright is coming, she lets me know. Then she hugs me tightly and I whisper in her ear three times "Shock, go away!"And as irrational as this fright is, the spell works very well. She then lets me go more easily and has the feeling that we have done something together to chase away the fright. This has already become a small ritual in the mornings when we drop her off at daycare, and since we’ve been doing this, it’s less and less necessary to.
4. You can trust me; I trust you too.
Of course, it can’t be about taking the child out of all contexts now and just squatting at home to avoid a separation situation. Instead, it’s a matter of figuring out which situations are reasonable for the child and which are not, respectively. which situations are unavoidable. Basically, I believe that it is easier for my children to overcome challenges if they know and feel that we, the parents, trust them to do so. The point of this for me is To never cross the line between demanding and over demanding. I don’t have to impose my will on my child out of principle, probably against my gut feeling (see ballet hall), but I can and should still "demand" things. The golden child, for example, has to go to the daycare center, there is no mistaking it. So what do we do with the fright? In addition to the spell, I make agreements with her to which I strictly adhere, z.B. once a week she is allowed to be the lunch child and I pick her up already at 13h. Or I come once a week already at 14:15, then I’m there when she gets up from nap and we can look at a book together in peace before we get the big ones out of school. Or turning for sure I turn around at the gate and wave, because I know that she is standing at the window waiting for me. I tell her that I know she can do it and that I trust her to do it. In return I show her, that she can rely on me. That gives her ground at a moment when she desperately needs it.
The prerequisite for these examples of trust-building rituals is, of course, that I know for sure that she is happy in the nursery and that it is only the separation situation that scares her. If I thought there was something wrong in the nursery, I would not leave them there against my better judgment.
5. The long leash: I hold you!
As parents, we are delighted when our toddlers plod along on the playground full of confidence, plunge into the adventure of the sand pit, and only occasionally glance back to make sure that we are still there. We sit there, at the edge of the sandbox, on call, but still invisible for the brief phase of a game or a little digging session. But we know our children are safe because we don’t let them out of our sight, even if they move further away. This long leash, on which we know the children are securely held, not only holds our children, it also holds us. Because during the stages of their development when children are forming insecurities because they are facing new challenges, z.B. at school, due to a new environment or new contacts, the leash also works the other way around. The Children need the feeling of being held securely through a bond, a "leash" with a reliable part at the other end that won’t let go of it. My heart girl formulated this when she was about four years old, an age at which she also suddenly became anxious and no longer wanted to spend the night or play somewhere else without me. As if to comfort herself, she said: "Mom, there is an invisible bond between us, right between our hearts. And even when I’m not there and we can’t see each other at all, the bond is still there. And it can never be destroyed, right mom??" This is exactly the bond I mean. We are held by this bond, we parents and our children, and we will be challenged again and again in a variant of the first playground situation to make this bond perceptible and to show our children that we are there, that we have not let go and will never let go.
Separation anxiety in children is certainly much more complex than that, and there are many other reasons beyond what I’ve described here for children not to want to separate or say goodbye. I’m simply addressing a form of separation anxiety here that I think is absolutely normal in the sense of developmental, and it shows up without there having been any dramatic changes in the child’s life that could be the reason for it. However, parents should take any kind of feelings of their children seriously – just because they are small does not mean that their feelings are small. As a rule, they are just the opposite of small, they are overwhelming.
So after the heart girl and the favorite boy, I’m currently dealing with the separation anxiety of my youngest daughter, my bravest child yet, and I’m always surprised by how much she turns to us, her parents, to deal with these feelings. To whom else? And one thing is clear as day to me once again, as with so many development topics with all my kids: Development is not a steady movement, it happens in spurts and there are also (supposed) setbacks. That is simply. There is nothing I can do to speed up my children’s development and no educational measure I can use to push them to get through any phase sooner. It takes patience, love and indeed tolerance to the turmoil and travails of childlike becoming. And sometimes also against one’s own (parental) becoming. Then we do it already, we and our children.
What are your experiences with separation anxiety in children? What did you do when you were in similar situations? I’m eager to hear what you think of my five tips and what your own tips are!