Things had gone far beyond. My son was miles away with his grandparents and helplessly, I chewed my fingernails! Sure when I had left him earlier for my meetings or night outs with his nana nani, he had behaved like a nonchalant teenager; but this was not what I had expected.
4 days ago, he bid us adieu when his grandparents’ stay with us was coming to an end. My (then) 3 year old’s greedy little heart wanted more of their pampering and wanted to accompany them to their town. Of course, I thought it was preposterous! My 3 year old had never been away from me. Undoubtedly, he had spent a lot of time with them. But managing a kid minus the parents was a totally different thing.
‘He’s not anxious, why you are rubbing your anxiety onto him’ reasoned my husband. ‘Worst case scenario: I will take the next flight and bring him back home’ he said. We scheduled his pick up 4 days later unless there was an emergency.
‘Mom I miss you’ was something I hoped to hear during our conversations on the phone. All I got was elaborate descriptions about the exhilarating things he did there! On the 3rd day, my mother-in law called and said ‘Beta he hasn’t done potty since he’s left you!’ Separation anxiety had shown its ugly head in a manner we never anticipated. No tantrums. No withdrawal symptoms. No loss of appetite. No verbal expression. No refusal to participate in any activity. Nothing. But he didn’t poop.
Frantic calls were made to our paediatrician in Ahmedabad. He suggested a mild oral laxative. We waited for a few hours and then finally with a lot of coaxing from my end, a promise to come see him the next day and a little bribe of ‘ice-cream,’ he pooped.
Here’s what I learnt about separation anxiety in kids:
It doesn’t matter how old your child is or how accustomed to being with/without you he is. He can be anxious and insecure at any time.
The symptoms of separation anxiety can develop in a child at any stage of his growth. Once he understands object permanence (the stage of acknowledging that objects exist even when you can’t see or touch them), the baby starts showing anxiety. Though my 3 year old had stayed away from me on several occasions, it was then that he probably showed symptoms of separation anxiety when he had to let go of his parents for 4 entire days. Worst of all, he probably couldn’t comprehend what he was feeling and its psychological impact affected his bowel movement.
Could I have helped him or prepared him better. I don’t think so. There is no foolproof way of protecting or preparing your child from separation anxiety. There are always some things that might prepare your child to accept your absence.
Little babies, typically around the age of 8-9 months begin to exhibit signs of separation anxiety. It is around this time that the kids start recognising their parents and understanding that their parents come and go places without them. Once you assure your baby of your continued presence and that you are not abandoning them, they will start settling down.
My Thoughts: If you are working, then tell your child that from the start. If you say you’ll be going for a party, he will learn to accept that as well. Be honest. Keep it straight and don’t refrain from sharing.
How to prepare your child to stay away from you:
I left my son with my mother to attend a wedding when he was 9 months old. He missed me, but he was fine. I believe that you should get your child to stay with regular caregivers at a young age. This list of caregivers may include grandparents, a nanny or a friend. This might help your child bond with other people thus making it easy for them to deal with your absence.
Here are few ideas on how to reduce separation anxiety in babies:
Lingering departures will make your child suspicious and wonder if he has something to worry about.
It’s difficult to not go back, but you must resist. A return appearance will give your child a greater reason to cry harder and longer the next time.
Nothing good comes out of tricking your child. It might be easy for you, but somewhere your child feels betrayed. After you’ve said bye, you might ask the caregiver to re-direct the baby’s attention or even vice versa. Remember your child needs to trust you.
Toddlers are old enough to understand, but not old enough to accept. It’s the time to expect tantrums, hysteria, crying, meltdowns and the entire load of drama. They can be persistent and often you’ll feel the urge to give in.
Here are a few ideas on how to reduce separation anxiety in toddlers:
There are a zillion things to do on the way out and everybody is normally rushing. Yet you must say goodbye. A little kiss on the forehead, a pat or a big hug. However, you may choose to say it, it’s the one thing your child is going to hold onto till you return. So make it count.
I always left a little job for my son to do while I was away. Sometimes it would be watering the plants, sometimes it’s sorting the vegetables, sometimes it’s just taking a long foam bath. It’s not about getting the job done. It’s about giving the child something to occupy himself with, while you are gone. Even if the child is feeling anxious, it’s a strategy that will help divert the child.
If I ever went out at night, I told him that I would be there to see him the next morning. Of course he had no concept of time, but he understood his schedule. So I stuck to “I’ll see you after your park time is over in the evening” or “I’ll be back to eat lunch with you.”
The Preschool Age:
While you may want to bless your stars for the independence your child has acquired, be ready to brace yourself for the tantrums and tears that follow at this age. This one doesn’t last too long because the child just doesn’t know whom to trust in you absence. It’s a new environment, new people and he’s never been away with strange people. Plus he’s not the only one in preschool. There are many other kids like him and for sure, the attention will be divided.
Here are few ideas on how you can reduce the anxiety at Pre-School Age.
When you tell your child that “It’s ok to be scared and worried,” your child will most likely talk. Make him feel comfortable about his fears.
My son not going to potty was a huge sign of anxiety. Kids show other symptoms like wetting the bed, stammering, not wanting to go to school, among others. Be aware of the fact that anxiety can do any of the above to your child. So continue to talk to your child and make him/ her feel secure.
When you go on with life as if nothing is different, your child will accept it too. Besides, the lesser tired you both are, the easier the transition will be.
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