Separation Anxiety

I am stumped.  I need help, but I need specific help.

The boy, 4 ½, is very, very attached to me.  Very.  Now, I am not talking about the difficulty he had while I was gone for a week.  I think that is quite reasonable.  I’m talking about the way he freaks out about me going anywhere without him and him going anywhere without me.  Anywhere. Or almost.

Today this problem smacked me in the face again.  TheQueenofHearts invited him to go to McDonald’s for lunch, just the two of them, because with her job and the theater they don’t see each other very often anymore.  Since McDonald’s is (apparently) the BEST place on earth, he was quite agreeable.  She even told him they would play on the little playground there, even though it is hot and very humid today.  He was excited to go.  We loaded up in the truck and I drove them over there.  TheQoH got him out and headed toward the door and he completely lost it when he realized that I was not coming.  LOST IT.

I parked, went to talk to him and in the end, we came home.  He wanted me to stay, but I refused.

I don’t know how to encourage him to be away from me.  I am always honest with him (I never leave without telling him or telling him how long I’ll be gone.)  He won’t even go to get some candy with Chief!  If I’m not going too, he doesn’t go!

I am looking for your ideas to help him with this… ideas to encourage him to willingly be apart from me for short periods of time without any fuss (I do go to the store occasionally without him, but it requires a lot of fuss and a lot of objection on his part.  He does do better if he’s the one staying home rather than the one going somewhere, though.)  I know that I could just force him, but that doesn’t work for me. I’ve not done my mothering that way yet and I don’t plan to start now.  I don’t want to ignore how he feels (even though I don’t understand it!) but rather I want to find ways to encourage him to grow out of it.   I don’t mind being patient with him and helping him be more confident or whatever it is that he needs and I don’t mind bringing him to most places I go. However, sometimes I really just want to run to the grocery store alone and sometimes other people who love him (particularly family!) want to do things with him ~ and I think it is time to start moving in that direction.

I don’t know… maybe it’s just residual consequences from my trip to see Garinion.  Maybe he just needs more time.  OR maybe it’s starting to become a problem.

If you have tips on how to help a little guy be more comfortable being left with people who love him, (other than his mother) that do not include a “tough” approach (forcing him when he’s melting down, etc.) I would appreciate it.

And here I thought after being in this business for 25 years I’d “mastered” it all.  Silly me.


About becomewhatyouare

Catholic, Middle-Aged, Knitting-Addicted, Wife, Homeschooler, Mom of 6, Mom-in-Law to 1, Mother of 11 little saints, Grandma to 1, Godmother to 12, Foster Mom to 5, Army mom, Happily living in Texas!
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21 Responses to Separation Anxiety

  1. Lisa Sweet says:

    Wow. I know where you are coming from. I have had to deal with this with most of my children at one time or another, but two of my children had serious issues with it between the ages of 10 and 12. It was so miserable for everyone involved. These two children needed me to be firm about what they could expect (pick up, drop off, who was going to be there, where I would be,etc.) and STILL they would freak out. I guess we just tried to make their lives as predictable as we could (with forewarnings about daily activities, etc.) and encourage them to overcome their fears. We had many discussions about what their fears were, praying when they were scared, not letting the fear “be in charge”, etc. The kids were pretty vague at first about what EXACTLY was bothering them, but we continued to try to get to the root of the problem and honestly, that helped. They were better when they “knew” their specific fear, because then they could face it. (One child discovered through much discussion, that he was afraid of the FEELING of homesickness!) It took a lot of tears, talks, prayer and patience. Finally, they matured out of it. I think maturity was the key. Once they overcame their fear the first time, they felt so good about themselves! That was the biggest motivator–success breeds success.
    I think since he’s so young, I wouldn’t make too big a deal of it. Is this a new behavior for him? Does he calm down within a few minutes after you have left? There were times we did have to use the “tough” approach; for instance, if I had a meeting that the kids simply couldn’t attend. They usually calmed down soon after I left. The more I wavered upon leaving, though, the worse I made it. A “clean break” was better.
    One thing you might be able to try is to take him and a sibling or two to a park (or whatever works for you), then excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or somewhere a little ways away–you’re still on the same grounds as them, but out of sight. It gives him practice being away from you for short times, but since you’re still “there” he might be more comfortable. You could gradually increase the time and distance as he adjusts.
    It’s a tough time. I am sorry you are experiencing it right now. We just came off a year of this behavior with my 10 year old….it is so not fun….
    Prayers for you and the little guy

    • All of my kids were way more “attached” than most, but by the age of 3 were quite able to be separated for a few hours at a time. It wasn’t often (and I’m not looking for often now. it’s not necessary) but I could go without much fanfare by then.

      I really like the idea of a neutral location and excusing myself for a time. I’m going to figure out when and how we can do that.

      I’m going to remember you and your guys… if you’ve had it between 10 and 12 and my guy is already prone to it, hopefully I won’t be too caught off guard if it comes back later!


  2. Elaine says:

    We have that exact same problem, even though he went to a daycare part-time and now is in school full-time. What we noticed that makes a difference is just to keep a routine down. We still have the occasional breakdown but it was a lot worse. Maybe schedule days during a week where you will be out of the house to do your errands and what not. I’d be upfront with him that you will be back shortly and everything will be ok. Then maybe gradually move him so that he and one of the kids can do things by themself such as what QOH tried to do. I’m not sure what else you can do. Good luck!

    • Thanks, Elaine. Not that I want your little cutie to be “suffering” the same, it is encouraging to me since they are the same age. Interesting that his experience with day care and school hasn’t somehow “inoculated” him against this. I guess I can stop doubting myself on that point…

      Interesting that you and Lisa both mentioned routine/schedule. We try to make a flow of the week, but maybe I need to be more adamant about it. At least as far as I can. This summer is such a wreck…

  3. I wish I had good advice for you. I am the kind of mom that will give hugs and kisses and then hand the crying child off to dad while I leave the house. Not in an angry, forceful way, but just matter-of-fact. Sounds like you don’t want that. Plus, I can’t say that I’ve experienced this level of anxiety with my kiddos.

    So, I don’t have any techniques. Sorry!

    • There have been situations where I really, really HAD to leave and did ~ and like you said, not angry or forceful (well, actually I have had to physically peel him from my leg, but not in a mean way.) This is a pretty big deal right now, so I want to help us both learn how to make the times I do leave peaceful on not full of fear on his part. I have nothing going on in my life right now that requires me to leave him against his wishes while he is absolutely distraught (no committee meetings to attend or what-have-you) so I hope to find a very gentle way to get there.

      This is new for me, too… at least at this age.

  4. MimiDenise says:

    I think you are doing just the right thing already. Staying at the McDonald’s with him would have reinforced the fear but by taking him home it gave him something to think about. He didn’t get the “treat” of going out with big sister but Mommy didn’t leave him. You can talk to him about you being concerned that he doesn’t want to be away from you. It is probably more of a manifestation of his personality more than anything. He likes same, comfort, routine and probably always will. Think in terms of helping him to be flexible in lots of different ways while respectfully keeping his personality tendencies in mind. (this is from the psychiatrist’s wife- ha)

    • Thank you, Mimi. I hadn’t given much thought about it being part of his personality. I will have to pray about that part, too. Thank you, friend!

      • Lisa Sweet says:

        I have to agree with Mimi–it is probably part of his personality. People tended to blame homeschooling for this type of behavior, but I’ve seen “regular schooled” kids do the same and homeschooled kids who separate with no problem. With homeschooling they don’t get the “practice” of separating, but I don’t think it *causes* the behavior.
        It is interesting to note that the two I had the most trouble with are the two children with the most intense and inflexible personalities. They both need routine and neither handles change well. Helping them to be more flexible is important. Mimi is right on, imho…and so are you. You did a great job at McD’s, and it sounds like you are being responsive to his needs. Trust your instincts; you’re a great mom!

  5. MamaMidwife says:

    I don’t have any good advice. My kids are super attached too, although I have so far avoided the “losing it over mom gone” situations. But my 2 kids, almost 2 and 4, both still sleep in my room….sometimes in “their” bed, usually in mine.

    I like the previous idea of going to a “neutral place” and then excusing yourself for a small period of time. Like you’re there, but you’re not there. Actually – I do that a lot when I am home and just need a break. I take a book and “go to the bathroom”. 15 minutes can do a lot for my sanity.

    It could just be left over from the week-long away visit too. When I was doing my weekend midwifery classes the first year, and even coming home every night after being away for 12 hours, I couldn’t go ANYWHERE for at least 4 days. I had to spend every minute with my daughter so she knew it was OK. (Boy am I glad that instructor ended up being a “crazy” and I got out of that. No way I could do that now!)

    Good luck dear. I know it’s hard.

    Oh, and I *love* your comment about “being in the business for 25 years”!! That is great!!

  6. Yasher says:

    I haven’t read the other responses, but… have you tried talking with him about it? See if maybe he’d be receptive to helping you find a solution for the problem. Maybe if you approach it as something that needs to be solved and that you need his help doing it, perhaps that will allow him to feel more in control of it?

    Does he have a favorite super hero or TV character? Maybe ask him what he thinks THEY would do in his shoes.

    I know how hard these moments are and I know I couldn’t force Weeb to do something, particularily if it frightened her. I’ll encourage, but it has to be in her own time. Sounds very much like you take a similar approach. Wishing you both the best of luck with this!

    • He does like Superman…

      We’ve talked about it a bit, but usually not. When I am thinking about it, it’s right after an “incident” and I’m frustrated so I keep my mouth shut!

      Thanks, Yasher!

  7. Angela M. says:

    Luke was a mama’s boy too. He would be fine if I left him anywhere as long as my older son was with him but once Tim went to school – well, let’s just say I quit my job aftr 3 meltdowns at the daycare. He was getting better every day but I thought my kid needs me more than I need a part time job. He has always been way more attached to me than his brother and he was a child that needed rigid routine, etc. That’s probably why he joined the army LOL! Anyway, he did eventually grow out of it.

  8. I wanted to share this email I received from a friend (in case anyone finds this because they’re googling about the same “problem”… the more input the better!)

    Didn’t look at much on your blog, just because I am pressed for time today…
    but I do have a thought about separation anxiety.

    I’m not an expert or anything; but my first thought was “Mary.”

    I know you are teaching your children well when it comes to Mary. I just wonder if, perhaps, there was a cool way to share with a four-year-old that he has a mom who is with him all the time, and especially loves to show up when “real mom” is gone….maybe give him some pictures of Mary, or a pretty medallion to carry?!

    Perhaps this is a beautiful opportunity to knit his heart with hers.

    In the meantime, I’ll say a prayer for you!!!! I think you are a GREAT mom, and I admire you LOTS!

    When can we have coffee?!!!!!!

  9. Rachel says:

    I don’t have any wise words of advice or wisdom on how to help… I just wanted to send you cyber hugs to let you know that I support you and whatever decision you make. 🙂

  10. Angela M. says:

    One other thought regarding this situation – you have a lot of children that are quite a bit older than your little guy. These children have left home or are away from home due to school and other activities (all normal stuff) but perhaps the little guy thinks that since all the other kids spend less and less time at home (and they must seem like adults to him) that eventually you will be spending less and less time with him until you go away. Now you and I know that is not true – but a 4 year old might not see it that way.

    • Absolutely true! I’ve addressed that to him (-children grow and leave, parents do not- kinds of things.) His nearest sibling is 7 years older than he is. His oldest brother was already out of the house and in the army when he was born! (I learned I was expecting him just days after SgtSS left for basic.) He and SuperSoldier are very close, so his leaving home last year and now being more unavailable by phone (or video chat) is a burden for TheBoy, I know. I will reassure him that I don’t plan on going anywhere (for more than a few hours.)

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