5-year old daughter is having extreme separation anxiety

(20 Posts)
ottawagirl Wed 13-Jun-12 10:32:20

Hi, My 5-year old DD is suddenly regressing to how she was as a clingy toddler. She has always been shy and sensitive and has always hated it when I go away. But I work and I can't always be there for her and recently she has been inconsolable when I am not with her. She cries at school, she cries on play dates with neighbours whom she knows well, she cries with babysitters she knows well and likes.
My husband has been away pretty constantly for the past year -- popping back home for the odd night or the odd weekend. We have no family in the UK and I guess I have been her only constant. I don't know if this might be feeding some sort of insecurity.
No one seems to have any advice for me. It feels very illogical and I am at my wits end. I need to work and I like my work and I try and show her how mummy loves what she does and we need the money I make. I have fairly flexible hours with my job so it's not like she never sees me. We spend a lot of time together and we have fun together and enjoy each others' company.
Has anyone experienced this and does anyone know if there are things I could be saying and/or doing to help her through this patch? I am finding it difficult as I hate seeing her so upset and yet life does need to go on. I don't want to indulge her too much either. She is an 'only' child and a few people have commented to me about that as if having a sibling might have made her less needy of me. To be honest, I think a sibling might have made it worse as she would have to share me. Anyway, she isn't going to have a sibling so that's kind of a ed herring.
Thanks for listening.

Timandra Wed 13-Jun-12 21:10:05

Ignore the red herring. People always used to tell me DD1 would be less needy if she had a sibling. I had DD2 when she was nearly six. She continued to be needy because it was in her nature. She didn't feel safe away from me for what turned out to be good reasons so ignore people who blame your parenting or her only child-ness.

I can't help beyond that though, sorry. Can you try to work out if she has fears about something happening to you or other worries she hasn't shared with anyone?

ottawagirl Thu 14-Jun-12 12:08:28

Hi Timandra,
The red herring has now been thrown out the window! Thanks!
Yes, my DD is worried that I will die as I am her sole support and her one constant. Her father does technically live with us but has been away for work most of the past year and we have no other family here. So, I'm it for her. But I do see other 'lone' parents out there whose kids are happy to be left with friends and babysitters etc... But she is just terrified to be out of my sight. School traumatises her and the teachers ignore it telling me she's putting on a show. That might be true but I feel there is something else there going on. I just can't get to it. It does worry me as I feel there is some very deep insecurities within her. She is a perfectionist and doesn't like doing anything unless she can do it well. Hmmmm. Maybe a link there.
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to reply.

Timandra Thu 14-Jun-12 14:06:34

I've had years of schools telling me that my DD's were attention seeking, not anxious. I now have reports from psychologists and other professionals which back me up.

In your position I would tell the school that my child is upset for a reason and they should be responding by trying to help her feel safer in school. As a first step they need to pick out one person with whom she can build an attachment through one to one chats or activities. If she then feels able to rely on this person and approach them to express her worries she should eventually realise that she doesn't have to depend solely on her relationship with you and that she can cope for a short time without you.

If they keep ignoring her distress they will reinforce her view that there is nobody who cares about her in school and you are the only person she can depend upon to make her feel safe.

A child who will only attempt something she knows she can do perfectly probably has a very fragile self-esteem. Again she needs her teachers to show her that they care about her feelings and that she is an important and valuable member of the school.

You can help build up her self-esteem and hopefully her resilience by praising her whenever possible, describing what she has done and why you like it. Also give her challenges you know she can succeed in and then celebrate with her when she does.

Spero Thu 14-Jun-12 14:11:49

My dd was exactly the same - she hates doing things unless she can do them well first time. Her dad has been living in another country since she was 3 (she is now 7) and she went through an extremely clingy stage around 4-5. She was the only child in reception who still clung to me every morning and had to be peeled off my arm by a teacher. If I went out in the evening she would follow me down the stairs screaming, even with a baby sitter she knew very well. I was told that she always calmed down quite quickly after I had gone, but it was horrible for both of us to go through.

I think she was reacting to the fact that I was the only parent she had constantly and she was obviously keen not to lose me in the way she must have felt she had lost her dad. She had some counselling for a while which I think helped a bit, just knowing there was someone she could talk to. We also tried stickers - if she didn't cry when I left she got a sticker and when she had ten we went a bought something she wanted. That seemed to help.

But really I think just growing older has sorted it out. She is more confident and capable and able to talk about when she is feeling sad about her dad.

I would encourage her to talk to you and try to explain why she gets so upset and just offer her lots of love and reassurance. I think it can be very hard for a child when one parent is not in their life that much. They have to deal with a lot of emotion and worry that they can't articulate very well.

dikkertjedap Thu 14-Jun-12 18:14:37

I think that it is wrong from the school to dismiss it as attention seeking.

You will have to try to boost her confidence. You could do this in different ways. Is there anything she would love to do, e.g. ballet, tennis, football, gymnastics, scouts, pony riding ? Because if you could let her do one of these, initially with you staying and then with you staying less and less. You want to praise her a lot and let her take a photo of whatever she is doing to school so she can 'show and tell'.

Not sure how rushed your mornings are, but it is also really important to have calm mornings, with plenty of time to calmly say goodbye at school.

It might also reassure her if you could volunteer at school, eg. helping with reading or whatever they need volunteers for.

ottawagirl Thu 14-Jun-12 22:29:34

Hi Dikker,
Funnily enough my DD has JUST started ballet. I have been gently encouraging her to try something after school and finally we have come up with a really nice, not too competitive ballet class, which she loves and it has helped her confidence.
I think I will try and talk to her teachers at school tomorrow. It is a bit weird that they just write off her anxiety as silliness. I guess they have bigger problems to deal with. But ....
Volunteering at school is a big issue and you may have hit upon something. I work a lot and don't always get to go to sports days and that sort of thing. She has mentioned that other mums go.... So maybe I need to cut back on my work. Aaaargh. It's so hard finding that balance!
Thanks for your comments. Very helpful.

Timandra Fri 15-Jun-12 00:05:53

ottawagirl there is no bigger problem than a child who is consistently distressed in school. While she is upset and anxious she is in no fit state to learn and she is in a state of distress which they have a moral obligation to alleviate as best they can.

Other behaviour may cause the staff a bigger problem than your daughter because hers has little direct impact on them but caring for her should be a very high priority.

Don't let them tell you they don't have the time or the resources. They would soon find both if she started to throw chairs around the room.

Good luck with finding the balance. You could make a fortune if you could share how you did it!

ottawagirl Fri 15-Jun-12 09:47:58

Timandra, Yes, you can see why some kids resort to levels of behaviour that will get them noticed by staff at school (ie throwing chairs and so on) as it seems to take this sort of behaviour to have one's anxieties taken seriously. My daughter is more the keeping it to herself variety of person rather than take it out on other people so she is often overlooked. But I did speak to her nursery nurse today who said she was extremely distressed yesterday and had to be removed from the class as she was sobbing fairly hysterically. Ugh. The nursery nurse thought it was from having to go to after-school club. My DD had said as much last night when we had a chat about how to make her happier and me happier too. So I've cut her nights of club back from 4 evenings a week to 3. My work will suffer a bit but so be it.... My DD have cut a deal over this and she does seem happier about having me an extra afternoon a week. As a result I've just turned down some work and feel fairly sick about it. I am freelance and work from home, so I guess I am lucky. I was doing the office thing when she was a baby and just couldn't juggle the hours as I am pretty much a single mum. So I guess I should be grateful I can juggle my workload a bit. We'll see if this helps. But I do find that the more I give my DD, the more she wants. Not sure if all kids are like this....
Once I've found that elusive Balance I will bottle and sell it! Wouldn't that be great!
Thanks again for your wise words.

sc2987 Fri 15-Jun-12 10:23:59

I (and science) disagree with the praise advice. This book explains why self-esteem should come from within, not external sources: www.amazon.co.uk/Unconditional-Parenting-Moving-Rewards-Punishments/dp/0743487486

But yes the volunteering at school sounds like a good idea, she obviously needs more time with you right now, she has the rest of her life to learn to be independent.

ottawagirl Fri 15-Jun-12 12:11:52

Hi sc2987. I am not sure how that book relates to a child with exceptionally fragile self-esteem. I had a look at it and it does seem interesting and full of good advice, but surely praising a child who lacks self-confidence sort of makes sense. I don't mean putting every scribble on the fridge and saying it's a masterpiece. But surely encouraging them to do something they enjoy and then giving them positive feedback when it is deserved can only be a good thing?
I am intrigued by this idea that self-confidence has to come from within (and as someone who works in a creative field, I know this only too well) but what if you are someone like my DD who lacks any kind of self-belief whatsoever? She is only five and already thinks she is ugly and not good at anything. She is actually neither ugly nor 'bad' at things, she just thinks she is. I find her mindset very tricky as it is not one I share. I am happy to try things and fail, but she is not.
So this book sounds like it might not really deal with this type of child. Or am I missing something?
Thanks for your post.

Spero Fri 15-Jun-12 13:28:46

I agree with you op. Our children sound scarily similar. My daughter had a melt down last night because she spelled a word wrong - she cried for over an hour saying she was 'stupid' and 'a baby' and she could 'never' do anything right.

I find it tricky to know what to do to help her. I think it is mostly her general unhappiness just needing to find an outlet. So I reassure her whenever I can - I don't lie or give her meaningless praise. I try to point out what she did that was good and give her suggestions to how she can improve. But most of the time I think she just needs me to sit with her and give her a hug.

As ever, with parenting, there is no one size fits all. I agree with the research that shows that over lavish or undirected praise doesn't help a child, but I think most children flourish if they feel their efforts are being appreciated and equally most will feel crushed if they get a luke warm or no positive response when they have tried very hard. I think the key is praising the effort that they make, not necessarily the outcome.

thepigflu Fri 15-Jun-12 13:43:25

This might be a bit left field but when I first read your post I was thinking to myself, hmmm children acquire full knowledge and understanding about death at this age. Then I noticed in a subsequent thread you said she is afraid you are going to die, I wonder if this is worth exploring with her.

Children only start to understand what death means and that it happens to everyone between the ages of five and seven.

Just a thought, maybe she's worried that you might die at work (you could take her in and show her how boring it is!)

It sounds really tough, my kids are much younger so sorry if this is way off the mark smile

ottawagirl Fri 15-Jun-12 14:19:56

Spero -- Yes they do sound similar. It's reassuring to hear you do roughly the same I do as it just feels right somehow. But lavish praise for the most minor thing does not feel right. As you say, it is best to praise the effort rather than the outcome or find something good in something that has failed -- like the colours chosen for a picture even if the picture is seen by them as a total failure.
An yes, pigflu my DD is worried that I am going to die although she says she isn't afraid it will happen when she is at school -- I think it is a more vague existential fear that sort of follows her around. God, these kids are complicated!
Right, gotta go watch her in her school concert. Thanks for your input.

Spero Fri 15-Jun-12 17:41:53

I agree that fear of death is probably a big part of this. For about two years my daughter has been very upset by idea of her dying. I got some books which I read with her occasionally. But I think again, this is just away of her expressing general unhappiness as she misses her dad a lot, only sees him about 4 weeks in a year. I think we just have to show we take it seriously and are prepared to listen to them.

Timandra Fri 15-Jun-12 18:36:51

This article gives some really good tips for supporting a child's self esteem.

Spero Fri 15-Jun-12 20:19:29

Thank you for that article, but it's really sad - my daughter often says those really negative things about herself.

Timandra Sun 17-Jun-12 13:22:03

Spero I hope something in the article proves helpful.

ottawagirl Wed 20-Jun-12 15:14:49

Timandra, Great article. Thanks. I have a meeting this afternoon with my DD's school. And our GP is speaking to a counsellor about her and about possibly meeting with us. Her lack of self-esteem seems to be getting worse everyday. if this carries on she won't want to leave the house! Ugh. Thanks for your kind words.

JessicaLuis232 Sat 03-Sep-16 08:23:32

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

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