How to Deal with Separation Anxiety

My son suffers from separation anxiety: I always imagine us literally looking like a pair of monkeys when we go anywhere: the mother monkey walking along the road with the baby monkey attached to her, its little arms and legs wrapped around her upper body so tight that there is no way this little baby is being left behind, forgotten or dropped. Similarly, Bean wraps himself around me, clinging on for dear life, when someone comes to visit or when we first arrive somewhere.

In Afrikaans we use the term ‘ma vas’ to describe a child who suffers from separation anxiety and it describes this phenomenon perfectly: being stuck to mom. Although I secretly love being so needed and loved, it can be very traumatising (for both my son and I) at times. When I have to go somewhere (anywhere, even the toilet) and I leave him with our nanny or his grandmother, or aunt, or sometimes even dad, he becomes hysterical. Granted, the crying does not last long and he soon gets distracted and carries on playing, but it is heart-breaking seeing those big crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks, hearing his heart-sore cry. It also makes nights difficult when he wakes up crying needing to be assured that I am there.

Although I have accepted that for now, my baby simply needs me and I will therefore do my best to be there for him, it is just not possible to be with him 24/7. I have therefore implemented the following steps to help mitigate Bean’s separation anxiety:

Build a relationship of trust

Before I leave, I pick Bean up, give him a big hug and tell him I am leaving, where I am leaving to, why I have to leave and most importantly, when I will be back. I make a point of telling the truth and I do not lie about any of the timelines given. I know that he is still small and does not understand it all, but there will be a time when he does, so for now I am laying the foundation for him to trust me.

Although it seems easier to quickly sneak out instead of saying good bye, I feel that this would create even more anxiety as he would never be 100% sure of my whereabouts.

Let him get accustomed to people and surroundings

This sounds logical but I have noticed that when we get somewhere, people in general, as well as family and friends, immediately want to hold Bean. In the case of people being newly introduced to Bean, they either want to get to know him and get a cuddle (because there is nothing better than baby cuddles) and in the case of family and friends, they love him and want to spend time with him. And I, of course, understand this – when I see him, I also immediately want to snatch him up and give him love! But he needs to first get used to his surroundings, get used to the new faces and be assured that I am not going anywhere. By doing this, Bean, confident that I am around in case he needs me, will start exploring and going to people on his own, within a short amount of time.

Socialise

I take Bean to a weekly music class as well as a mom and toddler class, and he loves it. Although he was a bit shy and very attached to me in the beginning, he now runs to the teachers and the other kids the minute we arrive. He does still walk back to me every so often, thumb in mouth, to grab hold of my shirt collar or scarf while laying his head on my shoulder to recharge, but for the rest of the class he confidently struts around, exploring anything new while he excitedly participates in all the activities.

Bean is still ‘ma vas’ but since I have implemented the above guidelines, it has gotten a lot better.  He knows that he can trust me and he can trust that fact that I will be there for him when he needs me.