No Cry Separation Anxiety Solution Questions

My daughter gets upset when I leave her at the gym nursery. I try to reassure her that I’ll be close by if she needs me, and she just needs to have them call me. But it seems the harder I try to convince her the more she cries!

In our effort to reassure our children we sometimes inadvertently increase our child’s concerns. Saying things like, “Don’t worry,” “I’ll be right here if you need me,” or, “Everything is going to be okay.” aren’t as reassuring as you might think. For many children, your concern about their worry actually implies that they really DO have something to worry about. And planting a thought about the need to call you for help can raise a red flag in your child’s mind, “Will I worry? Will I need to call for help?” (This is the same as when a child is afraid of monsters under the bed and a parent tries to reassure her by checking underneath, “See? Nothing there!” The child wonders, “If she was so sure, why did she have to look?”)
Instead of planting these worry seeds, make your comments positive in nature and get the message across that what he’s about to do is no big deal – and even, fun. For example, when he’s leaving your side to attend a birthday party, let him leave on a positive note with a cheerful good-bye and a mention of the good time he’s about to have, “Have fun with the Piñata! You can tell me about it when I pick you up.”

 

Separation anxiety does not have a particular “cause.” It is a perfectly normal and important developmental adaptation of a child’s emotional and mental growth. Nothing you have done has “made” your child develop separation anxiety.

Even though separation anxiety has not been caused by any particular action or event, there are caregiver actions that can either heighten or reduce a child’s normal anxiety. There are many things that can help build a child’s trust and confidence in his relationship with you so that he can transfer these feelings to other trusted adults who will help him feel safe away from his home base.

Nearly all children experience some aspect of separation anxiety. For some children the stage begins earlier, even at a few months of age. For some, the effects begin later, and some children have anxiety that lasts for longer spells than others. Some children have very visible, intense or obvious indicators of their feelings, but there are also children who have less apparent reactions. There is no exact pattern or set of symptoms, but almost all children have it to some degree.

The development of separation anxiety demonstrates that your child has formed a healthy, loving attachment to you. It is a beautiful sign that your child associates pleasure, comfort, and security with your presence.

This stage, like so many others in childhood, will pass. In time, your child will learn that she can separate from you, that you will return, and that everything will be okay between those two points in time. Much of this learning is based on trust and experience, which, just as for every human being young or old, takes time to build.

Separations represent developmental opportunities, but they are only one piece of a massive jigsaw puzzle that is early childhood. Any one separation situation does not make or break your child for life. Any one time that you choose to proceed or to bypass a situation of separation does not create a lifetime affect. It is the building of many such situations that take your child on a journey from being a totally attached newborn all the way to his wedding day!

Timing is important when you forge ahead with separation. There are moments when pushing for separation serves no productive purpose and simply creates a flood of upset in the family. There are other times that are ripe for new separation situations and while they may start out shaky they blossom into a wonderful learning experience.

 By gently encouraging your child’s separation confidence at the right times, and in the right ways, you can teach your children valuable life lessons, some of which are:
  • How to control his emotions in difficult situations
  • How to use memories of people he loves to help him deal with missing them
  • How to know that people love him even when they are not with him
  • How he can use positive self-talk to convince himself to do things even when he has worries
  • How to persist in situations despite emotional challenges
  • How to feel good about exploring the unfamiliar, even in the face of fears
  • How to use past successes to know that he is capable of overcoming fears and forging ahead
  • How to accept that he is his own good company
 
Professional-Speak

“Separateness is a necessary complement to attachment.”

Harold P. Blum, M.D.
Executive Director of The Sigmund Freud Archives

Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution (McGraw-Hill, 2009).


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