We’ve gone through some rounds of this previously, but recently had been in the clear. It was to the point where Tate was saying “buh-bye” and literally pushing me out the door when his grandparents were here to babysit.
For the last couple of weeks, though, he has a screaming fit when we leave him at any type of child care or with a babysitter at our house. He’s also fighting sleep at night and naptime, whereas he used to go down easily. Now it’s all tears and pleading.
At first we thought it was just a power struggle as our almost-2-year old tries to assert himself. Then the early childhood coordinator at our church pointed out that separation anxiety was common at his age.
Hmm, suddenly I was having flashbacks to my child psychology class, with something about “differentiation of self” running through my mind. Of course I can’t find the textbook when I want it, but it had to do with the child realizing that they are separate from the mother. They love this independence but it also scares them. The same thing happens in the early teenage years and then again in the late teens/early twenties.
So after trying for an hour to get the tired boy down for a nap yesterday, I finally gave in and sang him to sleep in my bed with me. I realize that I’ll probably regret that decision, but I felt like he just wanted some reassurance and mommy time. Truth be told, I wish I could do it more often, without it forming a habit – a la the Baby Whisperer’s “accidental parenting“.
For the long term (starting today!) though, I’m looking for some expert advice. In his book Touchpoints, Dr. Brazelton recommends a routine of preparing the child for a separation, promising that mommy will return. Then when you’re reunited, remind him that you have indeed returned!
The Toddler Tamer gives two solutions to the problem: One is to never leave your child’s presence until the anxiety period is over. The other is to be loving but firm, leaving your child with trusted caregivers without lingering or providing extra comfort. Like Dr. Brazelton, he says to reinforce the event of your return so that it really sinks in for them.
An article at KidsHealth not only gives advice on toddler separation anxiety, but recommends several children’s books that deal with the topic. We’ll be looking for these at the library!
- The Good-Bye Book by Judith Viorst
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- Even If I Spill My Milk? by Anna Grossnickle Hines
BabyCenter also gives some good advice on dealing with an anxious 2 year old.
Has anyone else experienced separation anxiety with a toddler? How long did it last? (please say it wasn’t long!) How did you combat the problem?