My child’s separation anxiety is slowly killing me

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Dear scary mom,

My oldest daughter, who is 6, suffers from severe separation anxiety. She used to have it when she was a kid, but she grew up around the age of 4. Obviously, the past 18 months have been A LOT for everyone – and my kid is no exception. I noticed that the anxiety started pointing its ugly head again last winter and hoped it would ease off a bit once we were outside again and doing more things with each other. This is not the case. I can’t go to the store, walk, or even go to the bathroom (sometimes, not always) without her panicking about where I am. I used to give in and take it with me shopping, but now that the number of delta variants is growing like crazy, I don’t want to take it anywhere unnecessarily. Mostly, it’s really bad at bedtime. She cries to the point of shaking sometimes because she’s so scared to fall asleep (what, I have no idea… she says monsters, but I don’t really think that’s it). She wants to sleep with me. We don’t usually give in to that one, but every now and then we let her climb into bed with us on the weekends. My husband and I are as patient as possible with her and we never shame or yell at her, but I need more ideas to help here so that I don’t lose him. She is starting school again in person in a few weeks, and I hope that helps her because, oddly enough, she is a very outgoing extrovert and easily gravitates towards other children. When she plays with other people, she doesn’t care about me. But when she isn’t, well, her separation anxiety is playing seriously with my sanity.

Oh, mom. It’s a lot. For you and for her. You don’t mention if the virus is something she is directly affected by, so I’m going to assume that she picks up what she hears from you and your husband and on TV etc. and is informed in a way adapted to his age way. She is old enough to understand that this virus makes a lot of people really sick, and that it has been going on for a long time. Of course, she has anxiety. I would be almost worried if she were aware of the pandemic and does not have have some kind of anxiety.

Data shows separation anxiety in children has been very common during COVID, even with how strained it has strained us all at home and around each other. She probably missed her boyfriends and normal routine and held onto you because you make her feel safe and loved.

Here is what you can try. Before you go to the store or have to go shopping (and you shouldn’t feel bad about doing these chores on your own), prepare her in advance. And instead of saying something like, “Mom is going to the store, okay?” You can try this pattern instead: “Mum is going to the store, then I will mail a letter to the post office, then I will be home and we will play in the yard and share a snack.” Tell a series of things you are going to do so that she knows what to expect and has something to look forward to while you are away. Chances are she’s doing very well, out of sight, out of mind. But it will help her feel more confident about your departure, because you have a fun little thing planned for your return.

As for bedtime, keep a routine. A simple sequence of brushing teeth, washing up dishes, putting on pajamas and reading a book is more than good – and it helps her know what comes next / what to expect, too. When it’s time for her to lay down in bed so you can leave the room, try reciting an affirmation before bed (or a prayer, if that floats your boat). Learn and recite it together.

Here is a blog that has a ton of good ones. These are sweet little confidence boosters that can help her get into a good state of mind before sleep.

I bet you’ll see an improvement once she gets into a school routine as well. Especially if she likes going to school and making new friends. While this school year is certainly not without anxiety for anyone, she will likely love it regardless. Try all of these things and get in on the rhythm with them, and hopefully they help you (and your sanity). You’re fine, I promise.

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