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Advice on helping my daughter overcome separation anxiety

(14 Posts)
HanJL Fri 31-Jul-09 18:36:27

Hi, I'm looking for guidance on helping my daughter overcome her anxiety about being separated from me.

She is my first child and is just about to turn 13 months old. I am lucky enough to be able to stay home with her and we live far away from both my family and my husband's so as a result my daughter and I are rarely apart. I recently joined a gym with an excellent childcare facility and although I was concerned she might be anxious, the first couple of visits she jumped right in and seemed to really enjoy herself. Unfortunately though since then she has become very clingy and pretty much sobs uncontrollably the whole time. I really want to find a way to reassure her that it's fine for us to be apart sometimes and that it's not for very long but am unsure as to what approach to take. The women at the childcare facility who have been really sweet suggested that we go every day for a week to give her a chance to get used to it but we did that last week and if anything she seems to have got worse. Now she gets upset as soon as we walk in to the building; I guess she knows that I'm about to leave her and they said she pretty much cries until I come back and she actually seems a little clingier in general since we've been going. I don't know what to try. I've never used any kind of crying it out with her and I'm not convinced this is a good place to start because I don't want her to develop negative associations with going to the gym or being left in general. On the other hand I need to be able to leave her sometimes and don't want her to think that if she cries I'll come straight back and that's all she has to do. What have people done in similar situations? I was thinking maybe I could go and play there with her a few times and then try leaving her to go and work out but I'm not convinced this will work either and I'd really appreciate any advice, suggestions or guidance you might have.

Thank you!

limonchik Fri 31-Jul-09 18:43:54

Does she have a comfort toy or blanket to take with her? If not maybe a piece of your clothing (scarf or cardigan maybe?) that you could take off when you get their and leave with her, so she knows you'll come back.

Try saying the same words when you leave and return, so it becomes a ritual and she knows what to expect.

Also try to be really upbeat and positive - if you're anxious about the situation she'll pick up on it.

Is this the only time she's apart from you? Maybe you could try practising leaving her with someone at your house for an hour first, where she's in safe/comfortable surroundings - then when she's used to mummy leaving/mummy coming back you can move on to leaving her at the creche?

nannynick Fri 31-Jul-09 18:49:53

Try leaving her in different situations - such as have a babysitter care for her one evening at home. Leave her with a friend, see if she reacts the same way. Try other creche's.

I'm not sure why you say it is an "excellent childcare facility" when your DD does not seem to agree. What have the creche staff tried? Are they just letting her cry, or are they making lots of attempts to get her involved in activities.

She needs to get used to you coming back when you say you will come back... so at first you leave for a short period of time, then extend the period of time. Were you doing that this week - or was each session the same length?

HanJL Fri 31-Jul-09 18:54:46

Oh that was quick! Thank you!

She doesn't really have any toys / blankets / teddies that she associates with 'comfort' but I might try an item of my clothing and definitely the idea of ritual sentence appeals as I'm becoming more and more convinced she understands most if not all of what I'm saying. She actually stayed at our house with a friend for an hour yesterday for the first time and my friend said that she didn't seem concerned at all for the first 10 15 mins even though she saw me leave. My friend then told me that she became upset and was walking around the house crying and appeared to be looking for me. My friend said she tried holding her and this didn't seem to work so she put her down to remove the piercing screaming from her ear! She said she then walked away from my daughter and sat down with some of her toys and began playing with them herself whereupon my daughter stopped crying and came over and joined in! I'm wondering what I can read in to this and if we can replicate it in some way at the gym.

I don't want to be unreasonable and feel a bit like I'm forcing her in to this but I feel like I really really need a small amount of time to myself to exercise just for my own sanity and the irony is that when I take her to mums groups she will invariably wonder off and show no interest whatsoever in me for just as long as I'd like her to settle at the gym which just seems really frustrating especially given that she enjoyed herself there the first few times we went! hmm

wobbegong Fri 31-Jul-09 19:56:42

An hour is a long time from nothing. Build it up? Play with her there for a while, then go off for ten mins and come back, then twenty, then thirty etc. etc.

If you can institute a comfort object like a teddy, it worked for us brilliantly.

Also, babies can be a bit odd about phases. I found my DD was clingy one week but happy as larry the next. Confusing.

limonchik Fri 31-Jul-09 20:05:30

I agree with wobbegong about building it up. Your DD needs to be secure that you will leave but that you always come back - having some more practice sessions with your friend in her home environment too.

Make sure you always let you're daughter know you are going/say goodbye, rather than just sneaking out while she's distracted. I know some parents prefer to sneak away but ime it can make children more insecure and clingy as they are constantly anxious you might disappear.

thisisyesterday Fri 31-Jul-09 20:14:06

hi i'm not sure why you don't want her to think that when she cries you;ll go back.
surely that's exactly what should happen? she needs you, you go to her.

separation anxiety doesn't last forever and it's an important part of their development. there is nothing you can do to stop it but IMO the best thing you can do is constantly reassure her by NOT leaving her, or by returning if she needs you
a child who knows that when she is upset her mum will come and comfort her will be much less clingy eventually than one who doesn't have that reassurance.

do you see what I mean?

if it were me i would either postpone the gym until she is coming out the other side of this or see if you can go to the gym in the evenings or something so your husband can look after her

limonchik Fri 31-Jul-09 20:24:08

I disagree thisisyesterday - I think it is important to recognise a child's separation anxiety and help them cope with it, but it's also really important for children and mums that other people can take care of the child too.

thisisyesterday Fri 31-Jul-09 20:49:36

why? and why does it have to be right now? she WILL get over the separation anxiety, and then i am sure she will be fine being left under the right circumstances,

a child who is scared of their main carer leaving them needs reassurance that they are nt being left, and that their carer will always be there for them,
in time of course she will learn that when mummy goes she always comes back, and then it will be easier to leave her. but she;s only 13 months old! and this is a very normal part of child development you can't speed it up or amke them get over it any quicker. you have to just giude them through it and reassure them,

limonchik Fri 31-Jul-09 21:12:41

So no mother should ever leave her child/go back to work until the child is fine being left? I don't think that's practical or sensible.

Oligo Fri 31-Jul-09 21:20:42

If you decide to go in with her a few times maybe don't play cos she will then associate it as a place to be have fun with you and you'll have same trouble when you leave again. Just sit there and if she wants to be with you she can be and when she wants to explore she can do that too- like at mums groups.

It might take longer now since she's already developed anxiety of place. If you have patience the next time you go you could say bye, leave for a minute, then go back in, then another minute, then 3 then 5 then 5 then 10 then 15, then both go home. Then do it again next time but just do it upto 5/10 mins and then go for your gym session!

As limonchik says any familiar toy/book/shoe she knows from home is likely to be a comfort.

Before you leave give eye contact and a hug that acknowledges her crying non-verbally but then put her down and be confident, try not to show any distress at leaving her as this can communicate that you are not confident with the environment/staff- this includes avoiding watching her reaction as you say bye/leave.

Maybe talk to the staff, touch or hug them when your child is watching- works with dogs. If you want to hand over to member of staff do this but leave quickly so she can leave them if she wants, rather than perceiving them to be taking her from you.

good luck

mamadoc Fri 31-Jul-09 22:06:02

I would second the advice that you do only short periods to start with.
Are they the same carers regularly? Maybe if one could make a bit of a relationship with her it would help.
We had this with DD and our church creche. She was happy to go to my CM whilst I worked PT but not the creche.
I always told her I was going and would be back very soon and for quite a long time I came back after 5mins.
Gradually she was happier and then finally one day she jumped out of my arms and ran off to play but this was months I'm afraid to say.
I know how you feel- for me church is important and I really missed hearing the sermon and praying in peace but it is only a few months. You will get to your gym session one day. They all grow out of it eventually and I don't think it can really be cured.

thisisyesterday Sat 01-Aug-09 18:43:26

well actually that isn't what i said at all limonchik.
i said that while a child is in the middle of SEPARATION ANXIETY there is no point trying to make them "overcome" it because you can't. while they are in that phase the best thing you can do is reassure them by being with them when they need y9ou.

you can read into my posts what you like, but that's what I said.
as it happens though i do think that children shouldn't be left until they are absolutely ready and ok with it regardless of SA.
I can't think of any positive reason to force a small child to do something that upsets them, but clearly you don't agree.
i put my child first, not my need for time to myself hmm

HanJL Tue 04-Aug-09 17:07:37

Thanks Guys; a lot of this is really helpful! We started off with me going to a 1 hr class but on the third visit they came and got me after 40 mins and it got shorter and shorter after that (I asked them to come and get me if she became really distressed) I'm happy to start off with really short visits and build up; I'm not trying to distress her unnecessarily; I just really need this for both of us. Basically; as I mentioned; we live far away from both our families and my husband works long hours and is away a lot so I'm pretty much it! Much as I adore my daughter and love spending time with her I really need to have a small window of time away from her both so that I can be fully present and also so that I feel physically fit and energetic enough to keep up with her!

Nannynick / thisisyesterday I get the sense that you’re a little disapproving and feel that I'm pushing my daughter in to something she's not ready for which really isn't the case.

Now feels like the right time; around 6 months of age she entered in to a major clingy phase; I mean full on. She wasn't content even if we were touching she had to be off the floor and in my arms or on my lap; it got to the point where I couldn't even go to the loo alone and this lasted for a few months but I understood that it was a phase and that it would pass and when it did I'll admit I was even a little put out! Around 11 months (around the time she started walking) she suddenly snapped out of this and as I mentioned; when we're at groups and when we're in the supermarket or anywhere out she'll wonder off without a second thought so I want her to take that feeling of confidence and associate it to this environment and I think I've missed something / done something wrong.

I did an enormous amount of research before we started this; including visiting lots of different places and asking lots of questions and observing the staff. I've even observed this team via CCTV from the facility managers office and I know they're trying everything I could reasonably expect of them; cuddling her and trying to reassure her, trying to include her with other activities that other children are doing and taking her off to a quiet corner for a drink / snack / book so she's not overwhelmed. They seem genuine in their desire to help her feel comfortable and safe there.

Of course I don't want her to think I won't come if she'd distressed and needs me. That's precisely why I asked for advice in the first place; because I wanted to find a way of conveying to her that she doesn't need to worry; that I will be back and that she's free to go and play and enjoy herself.

I've made a point of always going at the same time of the day and on the same days of the week so that not only are the staff consistent but the children who are there at the same time are pretty much the same too.

Oligo; thanks for the explanation on not staying and playing; I thought about doing this but the woman who runs the creche advised against it for the same reason. Would there be any benefit to us staying for a while and playing together / me watching her play after I return so that she can see that I'm comfortable and happy there and that she doesn't have any reason to be concerned or would that be confusing too?

Mamadoc; I think I'm going to start by trying your 5 min sessions and see if we can make any headway that way. It doesn't have to be an immediate fix I just need to know I'm making progress. She actually has a mild cold this week so I think I'm going to try again next Monday and we’ll take some familiar 'home objects'; my clothing, toys, books, etc and make sure I say goodbye to her instead of slipping away when she’s distracted and give one of her usual favorites a bit hug. (Not comparing my daughter to a dog but has to be worth a try!)

Will let you know how we get on! Let me know if you think we should leave straight away once I return for her or whether we should stay and play together.

Thanks again everyone!

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