How to Handle a Child’s Sudden Separation Anxiety

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- If you have a parenting 911 emergency,

family physician and parenting expert

Dr. G, well she is here to the rescue.

(audience applauding) And she joins us now.

We're gonna start with this all too common question

from Lissette in our audience.

What's your mom-ergency?

- Hi, I'm Lissette.

I have a three-and-a-half year old

and an 11-month-old and one on the way.


Thank you.

(audience applauding)

So, Samir is my three-and-a-half year old,

our oldest, he's always been a leader

since day one of preschool, kid's club, you name it.

He was the leader and a rockstar and suddenly,

I've seen a new side of him.

He cries when we drop him off at school,

meltdowns at his kid's club, doesn't want to go anywhere,

and when we pick him up,

he scopes my car for cups and to go trays.

"Mom did you go somewhere without me and Milan?"

I said, oh no, I got caught.

So then he has another meltdown until we take him

back out and make him feel like he's part of the group.

So, my question is, what do I do and how do I address it?

I know he's not being hurt at school or his kid's club,

but I really wanna make sure I'm doing the right thing.

- This is totally normal.

A lot of kids somewhere around

two or three years old who have been rockstars at getting

dropped off have been like, see you later or you come

and they're like why are you here already?

All of a sudden they don't want you to go.

It's actually their sense of their own autonomy.

Like, oh I'm starting to be able make

more things happen that I want in my world,

I don't want you to leave.

Also, a lot of kids that age genuinely believe that

you drop them off, sit in your car until it's time to

pick them up, then come in.

They don't realize that you have your own life,

that you're going to.

It can be easy, I don't know if you feel this,

I feared it as a mom of four boys, that if they cried,

did that mean they weren't a leader and that kids were

gonna look down on them?

Did that make them a mama's boy?

Did you worry about that?

- [Lissette] I did, yes of course.

- [Dr. G] And I just want to reassure you,

that is absolutely not what happens.

- Okay, good.

- He needs to know that you can take whatever

emotion he has to express and just like we know that

babies in the first six months, when they cry you just

go and pick them up, they end up with a stronger foundation,

and easier attachment, that kids end up separating more

easily as they get older if you can hear they're upset.

Like, yeah that bothered you.

I understand that it frustrates you

that we do actually do other stuff when we're here.

I know you don't say you don't wanna

be here right now, that's all totally normal.

The more you can accept his emotions without allowing

him bad behaviors, he doesn't get to hit, he doesn't get

to throw toys when he gets there because he's angry.

But that you can accept his emotions, the stronger

he will be and a better leader he will be.

- Okay, awesome, thank you.

(audience applauding)

- I mean is the crying part of it okay?

- Crying is absolutely okay.

But you can make it easier actually.

You can make it easier on yourself and

easier on him if you have a strategy.

You need a Drop Off strategy.

You can absolutely just say, hey, what's?

He can have a role in that.

You could say, what do you want to do first?

He puts his stuff in his cubby.

Maybe he shows you one thing he's gonna do

that day that he's excited about.

Two hugs, a kiss and you're out.


And do the same thing every time.

- What's wrong with being a mama's boy?

- Asking for a friend!

(all laughing)

- Absolutely nothin'!

And I'm hoping my boys are watching.

But, the thing is, what we worry about as moms is

are we giving our kids the strength they need to

handle it on the playground and to handle it

on the field and to be who they need to be.

And we used to feel that allowing them to express

emotion was setting them up later for failure.

And now, we know the opposite.

They can express their emotion.

That builds resilience as long as they then

move towards some kind of action plan

and that's our job to help them with that.

Be confident as you leave, you do hear his emotion,

I know you're gonna have fun

with Ms. So-and-So today and I will be back.

And then every time you leave and come back,

you're building his confidence.

- Are there any indicators that

there is some type of separation anxiety that

has gone too far?

- So, separation anxiety, Lissette asked the right question,

she said, I already know he's not being hurt at school.

I already know it's not a sudden fear, and often,

you can sense in your kids the difference between

sadness, anger, frustration, a little bit of

why aren't I the boss today, and fear,

please don't leave me with these people.

I'm not saying that a three-year-old has never

learned to pull that,

but that does make you want to look twice, ask around.

Is there a particular teacher that you're comfortable with?

Ask really good questions.

- To make sure there isn't an underlying cause.

- Right, that something didn't

all of a sudden happen.

- That's causing anxiety.

- Because sometimes kids that age can't say,

but if I stay, that kid's gonna

keep poking me with a pencil.

- [Andrew] Right.

- Always full of great advice.

- Thank you! (audience applauding)

- Do you want Dr. G to weigh in on your

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