Recently my darling DD3 has been experiencing separation anxiety at times when her Dad or I leave her - whether that’s leaving her with someone else or leaving her in her bed at night. We’ve always believed in emotionally supporting and validating our little people’s feelings, and are strong advocates of having a parent in the home and of not pushing ‘independence’ on our little people too early, so it’s been hard to know what to do. Luckily, we have a resident child pyschologist in our extended family so we called her in for a bit of a family conference. One of the issues has been that we often talk about missing each other, even when there are short separations, like popping off to the gym.
Here are some thoughts that she provided us with which I thought might be interesting to all of you with sensitive little ones.
“With talking to her about ‘missing you’, I think what she has learnt is that being apart from someone you love, means that you are sad. That is her reality. Naturally, whenever any of us says anything like ‘I’m going to miss you’ it is not said in a happy cheerful way. There will be suggestions of longing, sadness, pain, something undesirable. My guess is that whenever any of us says ‘I’m going to miss you’ what we are actually meaning is that time spent with that person is very special, rather than time apart for that person means that I’m not having a good time and am sad. Part of learning needs to be that time apart from each other with other people, or in other situations, is also special, fun, and exciting, too. Of course, for all of us, there is often some sadness associated with parting but for little ones, this needs to not be the focus. I think for a three year old, the concept of a parent being sad when they’re away from the child is ‘too much’ for them. They have no way of being able to ‘make things better’, for them or Mum or Dad – other than to make sure they’re never apart from Mum or Dad – and so we see ‘separation anxiety’.
Sounds fair enough right? So what next then? Key ideas include:
When leaving – talk with genuine enthusiasm and excitment about the things you’re going to be doing apart from her – “I can’t wait to…”, “At work today, I’ve got lots to do and I’m going to be so busy – like you at Playcentre”. No talk about sad, lonely, missing feelings. If she says something like “I’m missing Daddy”, acknowledge what she’s said and move straight on to something objective eg “You’re missing Daddy. I wonder what you’re going to do while he’s at the gym? May playdough? Or puzzles?”.
When ‘reconnecting’ – Things that will be more helpful to say when you reconnect, “It’s nice to see you”, “I’m happy to see you”, “Guess what I’ve been going?”, “I’ve been looking forward to reading some storeis with you”. The big thins is for her to be hearing (and consequently learning) that being apart rom her/a person you love feels ‘ok’ for you.
So I thought you might find that interesting and helpful. I really believe that separation from family at a young age is hugely difficult for little ones, and not best for their development and secure attachment, but it’s good to realise that as our DD3 gets older, there are things we can do to support her emotional independence, without expecting her to go out into the wide world without support from us.