6 Ways to Ease Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

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top: nike | shorts: nike | shoes: similar | sunnies: karen walker | deo: kopari | abby’s leggings: zella girl | abby’s shoes: keens

TGIM, loves! I hope you’re all having a great start to your week. I am heading into this week feeling rejuvenated and refreshed after a special weekend with Abigail. As I’m sure you gathered from Instagram, I had a much needed weekend of one-on-one time with Abby. Emma Grace and Travis spent the weekend in Anna, TX on their first ever Adventure Princesses campout. To say they had fun would be an understatement. They met so many new friends and tried so many new activities – Emma Grace even shot a bullseye with a BB gun!

Since EG and Travis were away for the weekend, I had the chance to really pour into Abby. Would you believe me if I told you it was my first time to spend the night with just Abby? Our girls are so glued at the hip that apart from running errands with just one girl, we’re always together! It was truly mind blowing to me that I hadn’t spent that much time alone with Abby since she was born! Crazy!

I was super grateful for the weekend too and it couldn’t have come at a better time. As most of y’all know, Abby has really been struggling with separation anxiety. It’s been so hard for her, but even harder for me from an emotional standpoint. I hate seeing her struggle or fear that she’s going to be left. I think it’s hard for me to see as well because I played a very large role in her development of separation anxiety.

I’ve shared this story on my instagram stories briefly, but for those who may not know, I will happily share the “traumatic event” that triggered Abby’s separation anxiety. The story has a lot of moving parts, but basically it’s this:

This past July I visited my parents at their lake house in Wisconsin – just me and the girls. One of our first nights there, my parents left for a couple of hours leaving only us Cobbs girls. After putting my girls to bed, I kissed them and told them I would be reading quietly in the living room. Once I left their room I headed outside to turn off the sprinkler and that’s when I figured out I locked myself out of the house. I was also trying that whole “social media detox” thing, so I didn’t have my cell phone with me. Of course.

I quickly realized that not only did I not have my phone, but all the doors and windows were locked. Additionally, my parents wouldn’t be coming back for at least 2-3 hours. By then it would be dark and what would I do outside for 3 hours? Sit? I knew I couldn’t leave my girls alone in the house, so I had to attempt to get their attention to let me in. You can probably see where this is going…

I could hear them through their window, so I tried it all – throwing rocks at their window, knocking on their window, yelling at their window, you name it. I could hear their voices started to get scared, but apparently I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me. Then I decided to pound on the front door thinking if I did it long enough they would be curious and come to the door. Well, unfortunately for me in this moment, I’ve trained my girls to never answer the front door without mom, no matter what. This is the one time they decided to follow the rules. They didn’t come to the door. Lordy, Lordy.

After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only 30 minutes, I saw their curtains rustle. I thought they had peeked out and seen me, so I ran to the front door and started banging on it again. This is about the point that I see both of my girls through the front window start frantically running through the house. They were both crying, screaming, and shaking. They were looking for me. They were screaming my name but couldn’t find me. Finally Abby looked up and saw me in the window. She came and opened the door and while I was relieved, they were both still very scared. They told me they thought a man was trying to get them. They also told me I lied to them because I said I would be reading in the living room and I wasn’t.

While this may not have qualified as a traumatic event for an adult, it most definitely did for my little girls. We talked about it at length – something The Whole-Brain Child book recommends to help kids process big life experiences. I also reassured them every chance I got that I would never leave them and only scared them because I didn’t have another way to get in the home. Emma Grace had some trouble falling asleep that initial night, but was fine after that. Abigail, being younger, has had a much more difficult time coping.

She struggled with separation anxiety a bit immediately following the event, but it has progressively gotten worse with time. We are now to the point where she has to be in the same room with me at all moments. She also cries every time I drop her off at school or church – something she never did before. And, she won’t do normal home things like eat or bathe with anyone but me.

But, we have started to have some break throughs. Last Thursday and Friday Abby didn’t cry when I dropped her off at school. Then I had this entire weekend with her to really pour into her and assure her that I love her and I’m here for her. We called it “mommy – Abby day” and she was most definitely on cloud 9. Even though things seem to be getting better, I reached out to you all via instagram for some advice.

The little community we’ve built – our Fleurdille family – is my favorite part of my job. You are all so wonderful, supportive, and wise and who better to ask than other, wiser moms. Some of the advice I received were things I had already put in place, but there were some really neat suggestions, too. So, I compiled what I believe are 6 great ways to east separation anxiety in toddlers and wanted to share those with you. A big thank you to those who weighed in!

6 Ways to Ease Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

  1. retell the catalyst event…over and over – retelling stories was a tip I got from The Whole-Brain Child – a book about how your child’s brain works and matures. The authors recommend telling life-changing stories/events over and over as a way to help your child begin to process something big. For example, I have retold the story of what happened at the lake many, many times. I talk about the facts of the story and how it made Abby feel. I let her participate in the story retell, too.
  2. prep your child – talk about what’s happening in advance. Every time I am about to drop Abby off somewhere I talk through it with her before hand. I’ll her things like “Today is a school day. I’m going to drop you off at your classroom, but then I will be back to get you at the end of the day.” Doing this helps them prep mentally and it will begin to give them assurance about how their day will pan out.
  3. assure them with the same farewell – this advice came from my sweet mama. Kids love routine, so use the same phrase every single time you part with them so that they start to learn that when you say that phrase you will come back. For example, you could say something like “Bye Abby, I love you and I’ll be back soon.” It can be simple, but needs to be the same.
  4. talk through the drop off/pickup event – this is a great tip to use both as you prep your child (#2) and after you get your child. For example, once I pick up Abby I’ll talk back through the day. For example, “Abby, it sounds like you had a good day. Mommy dropped you off with Ms. ___ and then you had lunch and took a nap. And then mommy came you pick you up just like I said I would. Right?” Talking through examples of you returning helps them begin to understand that you put action behind your words.
  5. give them a picture – this idea came from a sweet follower and I love it! She advised me to print a tiny picture of Abby and me or our family and give it to Abby to keep in her pocket throughout the day.
  6. read a bookthis book was recommended to me by both a reader and Abby’s school. It’s a sweet story about — and a great way for your child to continue to process through his/her emotions.