Separation anxiety in a preschooler is not as well documented as it perhaps should be. It is well known to exist in babies and there is plenty of help and advice to help the child’s anxiety. But what do you do when it starts in a preschooler? What do you do when a change in routine causes the issue but that can’t change back?
Our lives have changed slightly recently. Not vastly, or at least not to my adult brain. To the brain of a three year old the change is obviously a lot greater. Hubby is now traveling a lot for work.
This travel is often erratic, there is no pattern, it can be relatively last minute and although it isn’t for long, maybe a couple of days and nights, that is a long time when you are three. To be clear I am fine with all of this, I am embracing the positives because if I didn’t that wouldn’t achieve anything. I now get a couple of evenings to myself in a month (sometimes more). I get to watch whatever I want, I can cook meals Hubby isn’t keen on, I get to be alone with my own thoughts once the girls are in bed. It helps me reset. Pinky, however, is not coping well.
Recently she has become very moody. I understand that part of this comes with being three and a half but her outbursts have been a little different to the usual tantrum. Ever since she was born she has been referred to as a ‘velcro baby’, a Mummys girl. These last few weeks she has very much been a Daddy’s girl. In the mornings she goes to him for cuddles. She wants him to get her dressed, brush her teeth. She wants Daddy to read her stories and to put her to bed. All of this is lovely on the surface of it. The fact that it is a direct reaction to him going away for work is what makes it hard. As soon as the front door shuts behind him her whole mood changes. She will go from happy and giggly to miserable and nasty. The tears are free flowing over anything and everything. This last week it has progressed fro being generally tearful to being outwardly angry. Pinky has always had a great foot stomp but now she does it with the intent of causing pain. She has started punching the floor, gritting her teeth and screaming in anger. None of this is normal behaviour for her. I was pretty satisfied with the idea that this was a phase that would pass in due time, she would soon get used to this change in our lives. Now I’m a bit more concerned that the phase isn’t passing fast enough.
I decided I would do a little reading to make sure that I was doing everything I could to help her. I have struggled to find anything really useful online as most websites only cover separation anxiety in relation to daycare of the younger toddler. Pinkys preschool stage isn’t as well documented, nor is the ‘traveling parent’ scenario. However, I think some of the advice is useful in general.
After much digging www.parenting.com gives the following advise for separation anxiety: http://www.parenting.com/article/separation-anxiety-age-by-age
- Let your child know it’s onto feel nervous: I try and let Pinky know it is ok to miss Daddy… This seem to anger her further… I don’t know why. Telling her that I miss him too is even worse.
- Plan so extra one on one time: I have tried to do this but it isn’t easy. She has a little sister, I can just take Pinky out. We did go out for lunch the other week just the three of us and it was lovely. It may not have been one on one time but it did remind her that I could be fun too. We didn’t need Daddy to do nice things.
- Develop a predictable bedtime routine: Well…. Pinky has had a predictable bedtime routine since she has been 12 weeks old! It has adapted slowly as she has gotten older but essentially it’s exactly the same. She has still had the predictable sleep regressions and we have still had the awful soul destroying weeks that have require all of mine and Hubbys willpower not to cave in. She is now playing up at bedtime when Hubby is away…. I think she can smell my weakness.
- Do your best not to cave in: I am the most stubborn person I know. Pinky has inherited this! It’s a stand off for days.
I found www.help.org much more useful http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-in-children.htm. It lists some of the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety including reluctance to go to sleep and why. Check. Cling to the care giver. Check (she wont let Daddy go). Fear that something terrible will happen. Check. She simply likes having Daddy around, he makes her feel safe.
This website gives much of the above advise but it also has a couple of other points:
- Develop a good bye ritual: We have had one of these since she was born. Hubby always says the same things to her as he leaves to go to work, traveling or not.
- Leave without a fanfare: Hubby also does this very well already. It’s the usual good bye and he’s gone.
- Have a consistent care giver: I am a stay at home mum. I couldn’t be more consistent if I tried.
- Keep familiar surroundings when possible: Well quite simply I do. We don’t go far when Hubby is away. Just our usual playground and walks.
- Try not to give in: Again… stubborn!
The one piece of advise most people agree on is don’t use the phrase “be a big girl”. I am very guilty of this so from now on I will not be saying this! I will hold my tongue and tell her everything is ok. I have taken solace in the fact that I have already implemented most of the advice so hopefully this stage will pass as quickly as it came.
Are there any other techniques you would recommend? Has anyone else been through anything similar?
This post originally appeared on Meet Other Mums where I am very proud to be a regular blogger.