In the world of parenting, there are few phrases more frightening than "separation anxiety." Frightening, because everyone has an opinion on how it should be handled. Frightening, because grandparents and other well-meaning experienced parents have tips on how they dealt with it. But mostly frightening, because outside of junior high romance, few things in life leave you questioning your every move quite like dealing with a child experiencing separation anxiety.
For some children, it can start as early as six or nine months. I'm told it can go well into the teenage years or even until they leave for college. (Sorry, I know that's probably not what you want to read right now.) In my personal experience, each child, age and stage requires different tactics. Sometimes it's just easier to yield to the child and take them along with you. Occasionally, that may not be an option, especially when work is involved.
With four children, I've experienced a whole range of emotions and responses. One child was very young when it first set in and truly just wanted mommy more than any other family member. I won't lie, there's a little bit of satisfaction in knowing you're the center of their little world. I opted to just bring that little one along and it eventually worked itself out without any real intervention from me.
For another one of my children, separation anxiety reared it's ugly head at a much older age. The first few weeks, we tried the same tactics that worked well for their siblings. After several months of this recurring issue, we resorted to using the scientific method to determine whether our hypothesis that we were being played was correct. Using controls and variables, we determined our theory was indeed true. Then we resorted to a blitz style attack to get the child into their regular childcare routine with the minimum amount of drama. Eventually, our drop-off and run tactics worked and the drama was over.
What I noticed was that it didn't matter whether I soothed the child myself or left the caregiver to distract my child, I always questioned myself. I walked away wondering if I had chosen the correct response. External input never seemed to help soothe my mind either. When you have doubts in your mind and your child is causing a scene, it feels as if all eyes are on you and, of course, judging you. Occasionally hearing the word 'spoiled' whispered doesn't help either.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to intervene with a crying school-aged child. For the parent, there was no other choice, the child had to stay with us. We did our best to kindly soothe and distract the boy, but even as the father left, I could hear him apologizing and muttering many of the same things that have gone through my own mind. I completely empathized. I didn't mind helping his son get settled into our routine and he calmed down within 5 minutes of his father leaving. It was just like all the caregivers always reported back to me about my own children. I'm sure I'm not the only one that's witnessed this being played out time and time again.
A few hours later, I saw a family member sharing her separation anxiety tale on Facebook with other moms weighing in and empathizing. We all face separation anxiety at one time or another. The truth is, there is no magical trick that works every time for every child. Each of us, as parents, has to find out what works best for each of our children.
So my question for you today is this: how do you handle your own internal thoughts and feelings that come from dealing with separation anxiety in your children? How do you soothe your own heart and mind after a separation anxiety episode?