Dear Miss Faith,
My son turns 3 next month. We have been a family since returning from East Africa 2 years ago. I have been home with him, working during his naps and after putting him to bed. Suddenly and most vehemently he has developed separation anxiety. Even with beloved grandparents. Two weeks ago he was annoyed when I lingered while dropping him off (they have been having once a week visits and he had become terrifically possessive of them). The next week he was suddenly a little nervous, teary, but quickly fine. Last week he shrieked as though he had been handed off to Freddy Kruger. What can we do/say to help alleviate his stress?
Thanks for writing! Separation anxiety can come on at any age, and it often comes and goes–I’ve seen it with lots of kids in my play groups. Even children who have been with me for many months, and have a wonderful time every day, can suddenly have a hard time saying goodbye. It usually lasts a few weeks and then dies down again. I think of it as happening at times when children go through spiritual awakenings, when they look around and realize that they are really, truly separate from you.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Johnny who never wanted to say goodbye to his mom. Whenever she dropped him off at a friend’s house, or at his Grandma and Grandpa’s house, that little boy would cry and cry. He felt like nothing would make him feel better! But after she left, his Grandpa would wrap him up in BIGGGGG hug. And his Grandma would make him a yummy snack to eat. And the three of them would sit on the couch together and read a story, and then they would play together until lunchtime, when they would eat sandwiches and juice together. In the afternoon, when his mom came to pick him up, there Johnny would be, playing and happy.But the next time he went for a visit, Johnny started crying again! He felt like nothing would make him feel better. He cried and cried. And you know what happened? His Grandpa would wrap him up in a BIGGGGG hug. And his Grandma would make him a yummy snack to eat. And the three of them would sit on the couch together and read a story.And one day, Johnny looked up and he realized that he loved his Grandma and Grandpa very much, and that they loved him! And that he would always be safe with them, even if his mama was not there. The next time he came over to their house, he felt like crying again! But this time, he took a deep breath. He gave his mom the biggest hug in the whole world. He said, “I love you, Mom.” And he went over to his Grandma and Grandpa and said, “Let’s read a story on the couch together.” And they did.And from that day forward, even though it was always hard to say goodbye, little Johnny knew that his Grandma and his Grandpa would give him a hug whenever he needed, and read him a story whenever he needed, and give him a snack whenever he needed, and that when his Mom came to pick him up, he’d be able to tell her all of the fun things they’d done that day. And he did.