Every morning is the same. Anthony, two and a half years old, is not even up yet and he repeats “No daycare! Home mommy…” Despite all my efforts to reassure him and tell him that he will have fun with his buddies, he cries and refuses to get dressed. In the car, he begs, sobs and sometimes throws a tantrum. At the daycare, he clings to me with all his might as if I was driving him to a slaughterhouse! It breaks my heart! I even cry sometimes because I feel so cruel to leave him like this.
Every morning, it takes a long time before I can leave the daycare. I try to distract him by showing him toys, reassuring him as best I can but every time I get going, he clings again. He wants another hug, a last kiss… His educator wants me to leave quickly but I am afraid to give the impression that I abandon him.
After twenty awful minutes, I go to work at last, feeling guilty. Sometimes, I think about quitting my job to stay with my child until he starts school but my husband says that it would be worse an that he should socialize. I also wonder if there are weird things going on in this daycare… otherwise, why would he be so afraid? What should I do?
Can you see yourself in this situation? In fact, this child seems to be suffering from what we call separation anxiety. This fear of being separated from his parent, this desire to remain in the comfortable shelter of his family is common among toddlers aged one to two and usually fades after three years old, when they become more comfortable in the group and when they know more about the expectations of their daycare. However, some children will have an anxious temperament for several years and will continue to experience a discomfort of various intensities when they will be separated from their mother and father, especially when they will face a new situation.
As for any form of anxiety, it is common that several members of the same family suffer from it. This natural tendency to worry is often fuelled by traumatic events (car accident, friend who lost a parent, emotional shock) or by the reaction of some people in his environment. This kind of anxiety does not result in fears related to the events of the day but rather in accidents that could involve the parents while the child is not with them and that would prevent them from returning to him.
Pitfalls to avoid
When we talk about anxiety, whether it’s fear of spiders, fear of the dark or claustrophobia, parents regularly fall in one of the two following traps:
A- Ignoring the fear or seeing it as an attempt to manipulate.
The parent will lecture the child (“Stop acting like a baby…”), might even punish him or ridicule his fear (“Come on! Little bugs cannot harm you!”), ignore his fear or try to confront a bit too strongly the subject of the child’s anxiety (for example, throwing a child in a pool when he is afraid of water “so that he learns to overcome his fears”)
B-Overprotecting the child and being overly empathetic.
Some parents will try to avoid as much stress as possible for their child (for example, keeping dogs away because he is afraid of them) or try so hard to reassure them that their body language will confirm that the child has good reasons to be afraid. Often, emotions serve as a model for the child. “If mom seems so scared to leave me, there must be a reason…”
In other cases, the parent who listens and welcomes his child’s fears will be so comforting that they will give too much to a child looking for attention and love. At first, the anxiety may be real but afterwards, the child may over exaggerate his reactions to keep some control over the parent.