This week, the topic shifted dramatically to child separation anxiety issues. Our Moms' panel had to field comments about leaving the child for the night, the weekend, the first day at school. We went far afield to spread the topic to the clinical psychologist at Shriners Hospital for Children and to an award-winning childrens book writer in Florida.
Martha Baur, Ladue Mom
My youngest daughter who is almost four tends to struggle a bit with separation anxiety. Preschool drop off is where I see it the most. I have a few tricks up my sleeve that seem to work but believe me...there are those days that nothing will coax her out of the car without a few tears.
First and foremost I am adamant about my children getting the proper amount of sleep each night. A well rested child tends to be less emotional and eager to start the day.
I am always clear about my expectations for my little one from the moment we get in the car. I brag about what a big girl she is and how her teachers will be so proud of her when she walks to her class without her Mom.
I remind her of what fun she has at school and how her friends can't wait to see her. I also keep up with what the weekly themes are in her classroom so that our conversations can focus on the exciting things she's currently learning about.
And finally, if all else fails, I have her deliver a "very important note" to her teacher. This "note" sometimes is just a scrap piece of paper from the car, but she has no idea! In her mind, she has a special job and that becomes the focus of her attention.
As a parent I know that some days are easier than others and kids will always throw curve balls. In the end, I try to maintain a consistent set of expectations so that my children know what to expect on a daily basis. That seems to alleviate a lot of stressful situations.
Nancy Pasternak, Frontenac Mom
I was very anxious about separating from my first child - my son Trey. Looking back, I was fortunate to have a trusted adult, my mother, caring for him when I needed to be away from him. But it was still nerve-wracking. It really was more 'my' issue because he never really seemed upset as a baby when grandma was here.
However, there was a time when he was older that he got upset with me leaving at the gym (which I quit going) and then at 20-months, he was upset the first few times he started a 'morning away' day at the Ladue Early Childhood Center. Some of the things I learned/practiced was starting out with short 'away' times. I would leave and come back 30 minutes later.
When he started school, I made my exit quickly after kissing him and re-assuring him I would be back. With my other children - I've really just tried to give them the confidence that I will leave them but will always come back and that I trust the person with whom I've left them.
Dr. Cindy Haines, Ladue Mom
My 'a-ha' moment when it comes to childhood separation and associated anxiety issues came when dropping my oldest child off at a "Mom's day out" playgroup that had a one-way-view window (you can see them, they can't see you). The sad face, crying, and perhaps even a little more drama than that, abruptly ended when I was out of view. When in view, "the works" turned on again.
This reminds me of that YouTube video of the tantrum-ing toddler who turns on the waterworks for the caregiver - but only when in view. The toddler actively sought out his audience and, when present, the show began again.
My best advice for preparing for the inevitable "Don't go Mommy/Daddy" is this: Demonstrate love and stability for your child every chance you get - in word and in deed. And when it comes time for your child to toddle off to some Mommy/Daddy free activity, lovingly -and firmly- say (and squeeze) your goodbye with a reassuring "I'll see you in a little bit." And then SCOOT! Your child is going to be fine. And so will you.
Laura Falk, University City Mom
I don't recall having a particularly hard time separating for short periods, especially as my kids' short-term babysitters have all been relatives! However, both children started daycare at around six months old, and that was probably harder on me than it was on them. I always planned and wanted to go back to work after each child, but leaving each of them that first day resulted in me being a blubbery mess.
Picking a good daycare and knowing they were being well looked-after helped. During the times when the kids have had separation anxiety, my husband and I have found it helps to have a routine. Doing the same things each day during drop-off, whether it's a special hug or quickly reading a book to them, has always seemed to help.
And it really has been our experience that when our children have been upset about us leaving, they only cry for a very brief period once we've gone.
Jayne Langsam, Ladue Mom
Separation is one of those things as parents we dread and crave at the same time. It is both hard to do, but a necessary step in both your development as a parent and the healthy development of your child. I suggest doing it in small increments, and reminding yourself that normal separations are not only good for your child, but a necessary step for appropriate growth.
Now it's time to go back to Shriners Hospital for Children in Frontenac to get the views of Mary Weatherford, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist who specializes in children's issues:
Mary Weatherford Ph.D is a clinical psychologist at Shriners Hospital for Children in Frontenac. She is very well versed in many topics surrounding children’s issues. This week, as part of our Moms Day council report, we asked Dr. Weatherford a series of questions relating to early childhood separation and the anxieties which go with it.
Q, What are some things a mom should think about when separating from a newborn for the very first time.
It takes working with the mom. The mom has to be comfortable. It might be that the mother has some anxiety. If the parent is anxious, the child will pick up on that. That can create problems from the very beginning.
Q. Why do mother show guilt when they feel like they are walking out on a child.
That is probably true. It is important that mothers are educated. They understand that leaving the child for periods of time is really healthy for the child. The mother should feel confident the child is being left with a very good care giver.
Q. Are there ways to easy into this, simply without just walking out the door.
It depends upon the age of the child. Making sure there is a routine prior to leaving can be established. In other words, give a child a hug and a kiss and an surety that I (as a mom) will be home soon. Making sure that routine is established early on came help a lot down the road.
Q. Does making a big deal out of leaving a child lead to problems.
The longer the good byes are drawn out, the more anxious the child might become. Sometimes the good byes are drawn out because the parent is anxious as well. That may be the guilt.
Q. Is quote unquote ‘Sneaking Out’ overall a bad policy.
That can particularly be a problem. From a child’s view, the parent just disappears. Children are very much in the here and now. What’s in front of them is what exists. To a child, when the parent leaves, they don’t exist anymore. If a parent leaves without a good bye, to the child, they have disappeared. It can be frightening.
Q. So when a child is with a care giver, is there a lot of team involved to have the separation become successful.
The first thing I’d say is establish and maintain a routine. If its bed time, stick to the same routine that parents would provide. Secondly, reassuring that mommy and daddy will be back home is good advice. Depending upon the age of the child, the caregiver might show the hands of the clock and say “this is the time mommy and daddy will be back home.” But, routine, probably has the most impact.
Do parents make classic mistakes by leaving, then trying to put the kid on the phone and things like that.
I go back and forth on that issue. Many people will say, for a young child, calling home can be confusing. When the child has calmed down, calling home only raises that anxiety again. Again, it is dependent upon the age of the child. For the most part if a child doesn’t get anxious from the call and can handle it, then that is fine. But again, you want to provide a routine that fives assurance of when the parents will be back home.
Q. Are there parenting courses on how to deal with child separation issues.
I don’t know if a whole course is necessary. Many times there are childen’s books to deal with those issues, and it’s great to read to children. I believe in child books tremendously. Literature can relate to a child in a way that may be difficult for parent to do. Parents need to know actually they are helping their child by short absences. When this happens enough, the child realizes that mommy and daddy are still there, even though they are gone at the moment.
Q. Why are parents so much more comfortable leaving a child with a grandparent than a sitter for say a weekend.
Because they know that person so much better. There is that trust there as opposed to a less known care giver coming on the scene. They just don’t know that person’s personalty as well and how they handle stress and not known as well as their own family.
Q. Let’s talk about the first time moms separate with their children for school. Should they practice this before the first day of school comes up.
Most people would advocate short separations. It doesn’t have to be a school separation. Parents can go out for dinner or a movie and practice short separations prior to the start of Kindergarten can be very helpful.
Q. Clinically, what’s the separation issues of children who go to day care as those who do not.
Clinically, by observation, I would have to say it depends upon the temperment or personality of the child. Many kids who have had a regular routine of day care or pre-school and then go to Kindergarten and separation anxiety still existed. Its a new classroom, a new environment and a new teacher so that has to do more with the child’s temperment. New peers can really throw them.
If the parent exudes confidence, absolutely, things will go better. That doesn’t mean there will be problems, but troubles are likely to be much shorter in duration. Some parents have good intentions but they are just anxious. Though the child hears the words, often they pick up on the feelings of the parent. Little kids are very smart.The have radar a mile long.
On to Boca Raton, Fla. to get the inside views of an up and coming child's issues book writer, Jennifer Kelman:
Jennifer Kelman is a 44-year-old mother of 21-month old twins and rapidly becoming a key player in the world of child rearing and separation anxiety issues. She currently resides in Boca Raton, Fla.
Her love of children began as a young teenager when she worked as a babysitter and volunteered at a local children’s hospital in New York City.
She followed her passion and holds a masters degree in Social Work from New York University. Born out of practicality is a marketing firm she heads to promote the notion that all children need to feel safe and loved.
As a young lady in her 20s, she became a nanny for her nephew Henry. Henry’s parents were in Florida, and Henry lived with Kelman in New York. Every time the child was brought to the telephone to converse with his parents, all heck broke loose.
Enter the lovable character of Mrs. Pinkelmeyer and her canine sidekick Moopus McGlinden.
Kelman had to improvise to survive and maintain her sanity. “Doing this in a New York accent would not do. She talked to Henry in a very British accent by saying “My name is Mrs. Pinkelmeyer and I’m making a delicious Rrrrump Rrroast for dinner.
Henry fell for the line. He would quickly be agreeable to go to bed and forget about his parents. The diversionary tactics always worked. He was hooked.
Kelman realized in the early going that
- All children want to be feel save and be loved
- Helping someone in need is always a priority
- Silly names, accents and pronunciations always delight
- Learning to share a good book is a lifelong joy
- Feeling good about yourself is just being the way you are
This common sense approach has led Kelman to a career as a award winning book writer and marketer. “By the time children are nine months old, they quickly learn that you exist, even when you are not in the room.”
“When parents need to be away, they should never sneak out on their children. A child needs to develop a level of trust and security. We are teaching way too much mistrust in this world already,” said Kelman.
“I believe in short ‘good byes’ and ‘long hellos.’”
Continuing, “too often the anxiety of the parent only goes to hurt the children.”
Today, the marketing efforts are well underway with books, dolls and other sorts of adorable items for sale. Mrs. Pinkelmeyer and Moopus McGlinden Burn the Rrrump Rrroast has been awarded the Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA) seal and the books are available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.