Separation anxiety.


The fear of not having to hand those that you rely on is terrifying. It is something I think most children go through to some degree or another – although watching the confidence of many children does make you wonder! I even think as adults, we are often put in situations where we need the fall net of familiar faces to help us perform some tasks.

Both my boys have suffered terrible separation anxiety and it has been handled as best we can – as usual we muddle through, make mistakes, learn from them and try to adapt the next time.

Before M started nursery, he had tried several groups to help him learn to develop bonds with other children – at this stage we just believed he was painfully shy as we hadn’t thought there may be something more to his behaviour. He lasted just two sessions at the 2’s group. He just wouldn’t let me go, and became so stressed at the thought of being there, that we just believed he wasn’t quiet ready. He was perfectly behaved at classes I stayed with him, but as soon as there was the slightest thought I might move away from him then he became uncontrollable. We explained all of this when he started nursery, as well as the fact we had begun the process of looking at his behaviour generally. It was agreed I would stay with him to begin with. After a couple of weeks, he unstuck himself from my side and would go and paint – a purely solitary task, but as soon as he was asked to go with other children he returned to me, almost hyper-ventilating. Eventually I started to leave the room when he went off, for longer and longer periods, but it was a good 6 months before he had bonded enough with one of the assistants there to allow me to leave him. The teacher was not convinced there was more to his behaviour than a paranoid mother who was trying to turn her son into a mummys boy!! We on the other hand knew there was something different about him and ignored her nastiness. I though had to drop him off and pick him up, as even when his Dad was available, changing the routine was just not acceptable in M’s mind. This behaviour continued throughout nursery, but a change of teacher, and a piece of paper with a diagnosis written on it meant his behaviour was no longer deemed my fault!

When he was due to start school, a lot of preparation was put in place to ease the transition for him, but he could not cope with full days without a break. This meant he came home every lunchtime for over 2 years. With the help of his teachers, they tried to get him to stay, and he even agreed on a couple of occasions, but the panic attack on the actual day meant we always decided it was in his – and everyone elses, best interests to bring him home for lunch. By the time he reached P3, we had him staying one day a week, and gradually have increased it so that now he is able to stay almost every day. He now only once in a while asks if he can come home for lunch.

In the house, M very much likes his own company, and will happily sit playing on the computer by himself for hours on end. This solitary time is punctuated with checking where everyone else is. If I dare to go and have a soak on a weekend afternoon, he will be in and out of the bathroom a dozen times just checking I’m still there!   I can’t go anywhere or do anything without him knowing what it is.

This year, with me going into hospital, was very stressful for M, and he had to learn very quickly to trust other people. A dear friend who we walk up to the school with every day, walked M home on many days, and once, he even agreed to go to her house after school. It was such an important moment in his development – many parents might think that’s no big deal but for him it was mega!

D on the other hand has never been so obviously clingy. He loves his cuddles, and will give hugs with no notice and seemingly no reason, which is lovely. However, because he takes the weight of the world on his shoulders, you often don’t see the tiny things that do bug him, it is only when you step back and look at the wider picture do things seem to fall into place. This morning was a great example of this, and in fact the reason I decided to talk about this today.

D loves learning, but finds school very stressful. He loves his teacher to bits which means once he is in there then he is ok, but the thought of going always has him getting upset. He will employ all types of delay tactic from refusing to get dressed, to sitting on the loo for half an hour. As we walk up the road to the school, his pace gets slower and slower, to the point that for the rest of us its painful. When we eventually get to his line, his head goes down, and most mornings he looks as if he could cry. By this stage of their second year at school, most parents have left their kids to line up and are away to the side chatting, but D has never let me do that, insisting I stand with him, and often leaning his head into me. If I have to sort M out in the playground, D can get very distressed, and has even been in tears when I had to go in to see M’s teacher one morning. He is always fine when he comes out of school, so I know for him the thought is worse than the deed.

This morning, I had to go to the hospital for a 9am appointment. It is only a 15 minute drive, so I was able to get the boys organised. M was fine when I explained he would be walking up the road with the usual crowd, but not me. D on the other hand became very panicked. He was glassy eyes, and holding really tight to me as I walked him to the bottom of the road to meet the others. I had to promise him a home lunch just to calm him enough to allow me to leave him. It is the first time he has had to go to school without either me or his Dad and he really wasn’t happy.

This behaviour made me think that his constantly telling us how much he dislikes going to school could actually be his separation anxiety manifesting itself in a way he can show it. It is such a difficult one to handle as I can’t be standing with him giving him a kiss as he goes into secondary school, but he has to be ready to let me step back. M got there, and I am sure D will eventually. It just makes you as a parent realise that things aren’t always what they might appear on the surface and often there is a simple explanation that can be addressed.


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