Mommy, Daddy, Don’t Leave Me!

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As a young child, three years old to be exact, I can still recall the fear I had when my mother and father would leave me just for an hour in the church nursery. I would feel abandoned and scream!
Yes, I had loving nursery teachers all around me, but no one else would do except my mom or dad. My mother missed church services three years in a row because of having to linger back with me in the nursery. I would cling to my mother at birthday parties and to be able to attend a weekday preschool was out of the question. My actions were a classic case of “Separation Anxiety.”
With young children, there is some anxiety and fear which is normal for young children at different ages and different developmental stages. For young infants when they cry, when mom or dad leaves, it may be due to just normal, healthy bonding from infant to parents. Those who work with young children see this stop within 3-4 minutes when a parent does leave.
In teaching toddlers, twos which begins around 7-8 months and goes to 24 months, it is normal for some young children to express this fear because they sense that the parents will leave and not return. So many times parents are met by a child in tears. Reasons for this is that children are reminded how they felt when their parents left.
When this happens I have to explain to the parents that they really had a good time! Most of the time these little ones are laughing, engaging in learning and activities. So moms, dads, don’t worry that your child has had a bad time – 99 percent of the time it is that they reflect upon the separation feeling that came when you initially left.
Feel free to ask your child’s teacher how they have done. When younger children wander off by crawling or walking away, they may even be scared or anxious by the space or distance they have away from their parents by the positive step of progress they have made, but it has created a distance from their parents that scares them.
Parents, there is light at the end of the tunnel, with these unpredictable reactions to being separated from their parents usually decreasing between two and three years of age. As a teacher, I love to witness when the morning separations become easier. It is great to wave goodbye to a parent with a smiling child in which this stage of development has passed.
One suggestion that I have seen many parents do when this exists with their child is to ease out slowly until the child adjusts. As a parent, you have to realize that the class must go on so you become a participant along with your child. The teacher of the class will deeply appreciate this outreach of understanding. Sometimes immediate separation is the answer. It depends on the personality and nature of your child. You know your child better than anybody.
From many resources addressing this issue, take into account that tiredness, illness, major changes in a family such as a move, a change in a regular routine or schedule, the birth of a new baby in a family, divorce, death can contribute to the anxiety a child feels when they are away from their parents. If a child is attending a new daycare center, preschool, or has a new childcare giver, this can also contribute to separation anxiety.
Many parents in addressing the issue begin to have nights out by having a family member take care of their children such as grandmothers, grandfathers, hiring a baby sitter, or swapping out with other parents in a coop to help with the situation of separation anxiety. Being away from a child during a small time like church services, meetings, or other activities is a good way for your child to begin to develop independence. Weekday preschools or “Moms Day Out” help with this developmental need to help parents and child too.
One thing as a teacher and a parent that seems to connect a child to that feeling of closeness in going through this is to allow a child to bring an item from home such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal to hold close to. Be sensitive to the needs of the teacher and class and try not to send an item or toy that may be disruptive.
Parents, I know I have just “touched the tip of the iceberg” on this subject, but I do hope that these few suggestions will help you hold on to hope during this stage of development with your young child.
Beth Pinyerd, also known as the “Classroom Observer,” has taught  young children in the Early Childhood Classroom for 34 years as well as outreaching to the elderly in intergenerational settings. The Classroom Observer is here to serve the community in sharing the wonderful teaching programs in our local public schools, private schools and homeschools.  The Classroom Observer welcomes school news, pictures, and events which can be sent by email to donnapinyerd@att.net.

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