We’ve been having a bit of a tough time as a family of late. Thankfully, nothing is disastrously wrong, but we’ve been struggling with a parenting hurdle that’s consuming more of our time and thoughts than we initially hoped it would. Separation anxiety.
Over the last month or so, Ethan has been finding being away from me really really hard. We figured it was a phase that would pass and whilst this still may be the case, I’m currently trying to find ways to cope with it on a day to day basis. He’s 4 years old and goes to nursery for a few hours in the morning every weekday. He is also looked after by his grandparents three days a week while I’m at work. He is due to start school in August.
His reactions to my departure are pretty full on. He sobs, clings to my legs and asks me to “Pleeeeaaaaassssseee don’t leave me Mum. I just want to be next to you!!!”. This results in his caretaker picking him up and trying to distract him while he screams and reaches out for me. Needless to say, I often find myself in my car weeping afterwards. I’ve had discussions with him to find out if there’s anything going on while I’m not there that makes him upset (our minds always go to the worst places as Mums, don’t they?) but he maintains that he just wants to be next to me all the time. And reports are, once I’ve left and he’s calmed down, he’s very happy and plays away.
Even on my days off, if I budge from the sofa to go and make tea or if I’m not within eyesight, he’s immediately my little shadow. At dinner time he’s been pulling his chair around the corner and pressing it right up against mine. At moments, his attempts to practically be back inside the womb have even been comical to Gavin and I (and actually quite endearing to me), but at the times in which I’m leaving for work or other commitments, it’s really quite distressing.
Ethan has always been a Mummy’s boy. Poor Gavin is his absolute hero, but if I’m available, he doesn’t get much of a look in. He has also always been in some kind of part-time daycare and for a vast majority of the time has been great with drop-offs. This behaviour is new. We’ve been attributing the separation anxiety to a few things… Last year’s international move, buying a new house last month and my swelling belly as I reach month 5 of this pregnancy. A lot of change has happened for him and whilst at the time, he’s been very positive and took it all in his stride, perhaps, now that things are settling a bit more, it’s all starting to sink in?
Truth be told, I’m unsure of how best to deal with it. The tough love and ignoring his emotional pleas thing doesn’t sit right with me. Neither does mollycoddling him and keeping him off nursery just because he wants to be next to me. I’ve been trying to be firm but reassuring, telling him that he’s safe and that I’ll be right back to pick him up that same day, lots of kisses and cuddles but, as advised by the incredible nursery staff, making a quick and unfussy departure.
As time goes on, I’ve even started thinking about a ‘Happy Drop Off’ sticker chart, where he can get a toy at the end of the week if he gets enough happy face stickers. My only concern is that I don’t want him to feel like he’s not allowed to show negative emotions and rewarding him with toys, although I’ve done it plenty of times, always feels like I’m fostering the wrong kind of reward system. But the current winge, scream, sob routine is exhausting for both him and I (not to mention those looking after him in my absence).
So whilst I would have loved this post to have been ‘5 Easy Steps to Deal with Separation Anxiety’, I’m afraid as it stands, I have no answers. I’m guessing that some of you are or have experienced the same with your kiddos, at many ages and stages. If so, how do you cope? Did you do anything that helped alleviate it?