Friday, June 4, 2010

my 3 year old has separation anxiety

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Comment: I want to Thank You for the response. I apologize for not responding sooner. Your advice and reassurance is very appreciated. We are working through the issues. I will try and let you know how this works out.

Questioner: Julie Wofford Subject: Separation Anxiety in my 3 Year Old Question: I have been working since before my 3 year old was born, however, I was laid off from Jan. of this year thru the middle of Aug. when I went back to work part time.

I only leave my kids with their Aunt who is a great caregiver, but my 3 year old son who never exhibited separation anxiety before I was laid off, is now almost unconsolable if I have to drop him off at his Aunts for me to go to work. Thats only part of it.

Even when we are home and I leave him with his Daddy for an hour or so to go to the store he anxiously waits by the window for me to come home. He follows me everywhere and won't sleep anywhere except for his own room. He is the youngest of 3 boys that we have, and although I have worked almost the whole 13 years I have been raising kids, this is the worst case I have had to deal with.

My sister has had to go so far as to call me at work just to try and get him to calm down. Why is this happening after just a few months of me being home full time? I am seriously at the end of my rope with this. The guilt is almost enough to make me want to quit my job.

I have set up the babysitting to take place at my house but unless I put him to bed before I leave for work at night, he will not sleep until his father gets home and even he has a hard time getting him to calm down. I am feeling stressed EVERY DAY because even at home he only plays by himself for short periods of time (20 Min.) so I almost NEVER get a break from him.

If I leave a room, he follows wanting to know what or where I am going or doing. He was using food as his attention grabber, even when he just finished eating he would want my attention and thought that if he told me he was hungry I would stop and feed him again, but I realized that it was him wanting my attention or care so I stopped giving him more food and started showing him affection or re directing him elsewhere. What do I do when I feel like I have read all the articles and tried all the suggestions.

I don't want him to have to go see a therapist at this age. I Love my Boys and I know I have the ability to get him through this, but I am completely mentally exhausted from the guilt. Its causing my own anxiety to flare up to the point that I feel I need medicine.

Please help me if you can. I am really worried about his mental health and how this may effect him later in life.

Answer: Dear Julie, I am glad you wrote me. There are two very separate issues going on here. The first of course is what you wrote me about your son's separation anxiety. The second which is a thread throughout your writing is your guilt about leaving him.

These are two separate issues one is his and one is yours. Your 3 year olds reaction to your being home makes perfect sense to him and to me. You state that you worked before he was born so he hasn't had so much of you previously. He now has and he obviously likes it. So now he is fighting letting you go back to the routine you had previously.

I suspect that when you became unemployed and stayed home with him his routine (his world) was totally turned upside down. Correct?

Okay so the good news is your son enjoyed being with you so much he is now staging emotional demonstrations to get you back. Stop beating yourself up and say AMEN!

Yes, it is making YOU uncomfortable now because of this undercurrent of guilt that I suspect has been a river flowing unconsciously throughout your experience of juggling motherhood and working.

You answered your own question at the end of your writing, "I Love my Boys and I know I have the ability to get him through this, but I am completely mentally exhausted from the guilt. Its causing my own anxiety to flare up to the point that I feel I need medicine. Please help me if you can. I am really worried about his mental health and how this may effect him later in life."

You do have the ability to get him through this and you love him. He knows this. You know this.

Get the routine down and do not deviate from it regardless of how he demonstrates his desire to be with you. Note I said routine, I did not say schedule. Children do not have a sense of time until they are about 8 however, they do place their security into their routines. Routines provide a sense of what is coming next. If routines are consistent then they feel safe and secure.

Next, include in his routine plenty of mommy time. Make sure he has time with you especially bedtime routines. See if you can develop an early morning routine that includes some stolen moments. (Can read through previous answers for suggestions on bedtime routines.)

In addition he is older now than he was when you first left him for work. Give him pictures of you, something that smells like you, something that soothes him. All of these are to provide comfort to him while he is separated from you. Mostly adults fail to realized that 6 or 8 hours away from a significant caregiver seems like a life time to a child. Think about how slowly time passed when you were younger and how much faster it passes now that you are an adult. Time does not pass this fast for a child who misses their parent.

Lastly, he will get through this and no you have not destroyed him for life. That you wrote me, that you are aware he needs support and you need to deal with your own guilt is enough to tell me that he will be fine because you are his mom! One last note, guilt is just self abuse and very destructive.

Guilt needs to be reserved for people who are indifferent to their child's emotional needs, unresponsive to their children's emotional needs and are capable of hurting children. You don't get to do guilt throw it out and focus on being more compassionate with yourself. He will learn more from your self compassion than you will every realize until he is an adult.

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller