Separation Anxiety in a four-year-old: When to worry? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 10-13-2011, 07:43 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My son, just turned four, has always been quite attached, not a go-getter as far as making new friends.  Very timid with physical activity of any kind (participating with others such as clapping or other actions, also doing "rough" play such as climbing, etc.)  When we take him to new places, he sits on our laps, holding on tight, even when there are other children around.  He's the sort of kid who likes to sit in the front room and "read" books, or hang out quietly with his best friend.

 

In the past few months, he has become more and more anxiety-ridden about being left alone.  Or maybe just being alone in the first place.

 

I'd say in the past year he's had this odd thing he does when walking.  If you get ahead of him (or his friend) by even a few feet, he absolutely loses control.  Sobs and gasps for air, and will try to stand in front of you and push you back.  It isn't that he wants to be the first in line, it's that he wants you to "wait for me!!!"  Lately it's been getting much worse.

 

At a BBQ a few days ago, he refused to go outside with the other children, aged 1-12, all of whom he knows, unless I went outside with him.  It wasn't just an ice-breaking thing.  He did it for three hours.  But he was fine playing alone inside, after he had been there for a while.

 

This week he started bawling and sobbing during Story Time at the library, where he is in a separate room from me.  He's been going for a year and never once had the slightest problem.

 

The past two gymnastics classes, he broke down, sobbing, wanting to be up in the bleachers with me.  I convinced him to go back into the class; he agreed to do it if I stood in the door.  He screamed, "Don't move!" at me every 2-3 minutes, and continued sobbing as he either stood and watched the other children or sometimes joined in.  Mostly he just yelled at me to stay there, or at the teacher, saying he didn't want to do something.  When we got into the car, he told me how much he likes gymnastics and how he wants to go back - so I don't understand if I'm supposed to try to convince him to go back out into the ring or not?  The only reason I take him there is because three "childhood professionals" recommended I do it to try to help him learn about participation without me around.

 

The more I watch other children around him grow up and become comfy in public, the more I'm becoming concerned.  He seems to be the only child around acting this way.  And it's just heartbreaking to see how upset he gets.  I don't know the proper way to react to any of it ...

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#2 of 10 Old 10-13-2011, 08:41 PM
 
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While our trouble is not nearly so extreme, I did notice a considerable increase in separation anxiety about the same time.  4yo is when imagination really takes off, and imagining scenarios of separation and dreadful possibilities becomes all too easy.  I expect this has been our trouble.  Suddenly my daughter didn't even want to go into another room alone.

 

In your case, for now I would consider this an extreme of normal.  Indulge him a little.  Look for little successes.  Don't push him.  Even if you see a little success, don't be surprised if he regresses again.  If he likes gymnastics, does your gym offer an "open gym" for little kids?  Ours calls it "indoor playground" and our girls have been going for years.  What a blast!  Maybe a class is just a tad bit much for him, but if you stay in the exact same spot every time he might relax, assuming the coaches don't think he's disrupting class.  Don't try to sneak away, you'll blow any trust he has that you will be there.  (That's what I mean by "indulging".)  Wait a long time before trying to find a way to increase his comfort threshold.  

 

 


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#3 of 10 Old 10-17-2011, 10:48 PM
 
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My kid had a similar level of anxiety from age 2 to this summer (3.5). DH and I did everything we could think of (talking about feelings, rehearsing new situations, etcetera) but what worked was finding an excellent homeopath. Don't know if you're into alternative medicine but everyone at DD's school has remarked on how different she is now. (It's hard to describe...she's not a different person, she's now herself minus anxiety.) I was becoming exhausted from limiting my own behavior to accommodate her worries. Next month we're going to hire an actual babysitter for the occasional night out! We never could have done this before.

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#4 of 10 Old 10-19-2011, 06:14 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Both so helpful, these comments.

 

We do have a "drop-in" option at gymnastics, which we used to attend.  I switched to this one just on the advice of these professionals, who were concerned about him being "non-participatory."  I think I'll try another few classes with me standing exactly where he wants (I haven't distracted the other children yet - they're too involved with each other.  Which may be part of the problem.  The girls are very silly together and just ignore him, the only boy in the class.), and if it just keeps getting worse, we'll go back to drop-in.  I hear so much about teaching children to stick with their choices for an entire session of whatever it is, instead of quitting after a few classes, I wasn't sure if it would be right to give it up.   I will, indeed, watch for the tiniest of successes and not push past where he needs to be.  Thank you so much for your advice, SweetSilver.

 

And I never know what is age-appropriate for his level of anxiety.  Do all four-year-olds go batty when you give them the wrong cup at dinner?  Or push their chair in too close (or not close enough)?  Or any other silly thing you can think of, every 20 minutes throughout the day?  Hmmm.  Maybe one of our many competent naturopaths in town could answer that question for me.  They may, indeed, be able to help.  Thank you, too, ElsieLC.

 

Story Time today he refused to even enter the room, even with me.  I'm bracing a bit for gymnastics tomorrow ...

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#5 of 10 Old 10-19-2011, 07:17 PM
 
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When my oldest, now 6.5, was around 4 she started getting really angry and a bit violent.  Very different from what you are talking about, but 2 similarities: it came on all of a sudden, and everyone but I was convinced it was "age appropriate".  Turns out this was one expression of a new, severe allergy that reared its ugly head.  We happened upon the connection by accident and I am extremely thankful we made the connection at all.

 

I'm not saying your son has an allergy (though he could).  Mainly I am sympathizing with that nagging feeling that this is not normal, despite what others might say.  While you are investigating causes, build him a rock solid foundation to stand on.  I disagree with some who might say the solution is to desensitize him to separation.  It sounds like gymnastics is working fairly well, but skip the storytime and find one where you can be together.  It sounds like he is craving solid predictability, for whatever reason.  By all means, consult a naturopath, get a recommendation for an awesome family counselor, one whose first recommendation isn't to separate the two of you.  (Keep looking!  They must be out there!)  There could be something going on here, in his body or in his life that is making him act this way.  Or it could be an extreme of normal.  

 

Don't despair.  Keep supporting him.  Keep watching for outside causes.  He might just age out of it.  I think you'll figure it out eventually.

 

(The "open gym" I refer to is simply that: the gym and all or most of the equipment is available to play or work on for several hours.  There is no teacher, no classes, though someone is there to supervise.  For small kids, parents and children are on the floor at the same time.  I think every gym has at least one or two open gyms but some might not make it available for toddlers and preschoolers.  For us it was an 1.5 hrs of tearing around the floor, bouncing on the trampoline or tumble track and taking flying leaps into the foam pit.)


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#6 of 10 Old 10-21-2011, 11:07 PM
 
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How is your son's sleeping?  Is he eating plenty of protein?

 

I see behavior more like this from my kids if they have not slept well or if they have been carb loading and not getting good protein into them throughout the day.

 

HTH

 

Tjej

 

ETA:  I should say - it does sound fairly extreme to me.  That he feels he needs to control everything so much.  It doesn't sound as much like separation anxiety as he needs to be watching over you and/or controling you.  It makes me think - what is going on in his head that he thinks he is in charge/needs to manage everything?

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#7 of 10 Old 10-24-2011, 07:52 PM
 
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My dd also had a major upswing in separation anxiety around 4.5, so a little later than your ds.  She freaks out if I have to go back in the house for something I forgot after she and her brother are in their car seats (she used to be totally fine in the car).  If she's in a different room than me and hears a door open or close she calls out to me in a frantic voice or comes running screaming for me, afraid that I've left.  Dh and I were in the back yard tonight and she came running out sobbing because she didn't know where we were.  This is all very consistent and began a couple months ago, I think.

 

The pp's comment about imagination rings true for me.  Someone also told me that between 4 and 5 children start to understand death on another level, and can become fearful as a result.  Dd has become very nervous about witches, goblins, bad guys, hobgoblins, lions, bears, trolls, etc.  We don't do a lot of tv or movies, and we don't read scary books, so I'm not sure if this comes from her school age cousin and friends, or what, but she is now worried about things lurking in her closet and behind the toilet.

 

It's not that she's never had any of these fears before, it's just that they have intensified greatly recently.

 

I have a friend whose dd is the same age as mine, and she was telling me about her dd's behavior -- it was almost EXACTLY the same.  Our dds have very different personalities, but this stage is manifesting in remarkably similar ways for both girls.

 

I wouldn't assume that there's nothing further going on with your child, but it is possible that it is a developmental phase that will pass.  Of course there could be other factors, and you should look into those that make sense to you.

 

ETA:  I also wanted to say that I agree, too, with the pp who talked about supporting your ds.  He needs you, and he's a little kid.  I would be against any recommendation that you force separation.  It seems to me that you can look into potential allergies, behavioral or developmental problems, homeopathy or herbalism, etc, while maintaining a supportive and attached relationship with your child.  Provided there is nothing majorly wrong, he will grow out of it -- I don't really see anything fundamentally wrong with children who prefer to be alone or with their parents over socializing with other kids.  Sure, take him to places where he will have an opportunity to hang out with different people, invite friends over, etc, but allow him to be with you as much as he needs.  And hang in there, mama, you'll figure it out.

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#8 of 10 Old 10-25-2011, 11:40 AM
 
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Hugs to you -- separation anxiety is so hard!  I found this article on managing separation anxiety to be really helpful.  Lots of good practice tips and the author doesn't make you feel like an idiot.

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#9 of 10 Old 08-23-2012, 09:13 AM
 
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Originally Posted by ElsieLC View Post

My kid had a similar level of anxiety from age 2 to this summer (3.5). DH and I did everything we could think of (talking about feelings, rehearsing new situations, etcetera) but what worked was finding an excellent homeopath. Don't know if you're into alternative medicine but everyone at DD's school has remarked on how different she is now. (It's hard to describe...she's not a different person, she's now herself minus anxiety.) I was becoming exhausted from limiting my own behavior to accommodate her worries. Next month we're going to hire an actual babysitter for the occasional night out! We never could have done this before.

Hi! My four year old daughter has major separation anxiety. She has been in preschool for 1.5 years and cries evertime I drop her off. She does not talk in school she just waits for "mommy to come back"  At first I thought this could be selective mutism; however she has since been diagnosed with severe separation anxiety. It breaks my heart to see her this way :-(    ElsieLC I read your post about treating your daughter with alternative medicine.  I do not know much about this; however I do know that you gave me hope! Someone once metioned this to me but I kind of brushed it off until I read your post.  I would LOVE to try this :) Could you please let me know what you used for this?! I would really love any help/suggestions!  Thanks so much

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#10 of 10 Old 09-12-2012, 11:54 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Katie2833 View Post

Hi! My four year old daughter has major separation anxiety. She has been in preschool for 1.5 years and cries evertime I drop her off. She does not talk in school she just waits for "mommy to come back"  At first I thought this could be selective mutism; however she has since been diagnosed with severe separation anxiety. It breaks my heart to see her this way :-(    ElsieLC I read your post about treating your daughter with alternative medicine.  I do not know much about this; however I do know that you gave me hope! Someone once metioned this to me but I kind of brushed it off until I read your post.  I would LOVE to try this :) Could you please let me know what you used for this?! I would really love any help/suggestions!  Thanks so much


I wanted to update that the remedy we originally used worked very well, but its effects faded after about nine months. We went back to the homeopath and tried different dosages, and finally settled on a more specific remedy that seems to have done the trick. That said, DD still is uncomfortable with new situations, but that seems reasonable given her age and personality.

 

Katie--do you have any practitioners of naturopathic medicine where you are? Or a natural foods store? You could try some over-the-counter homeopathic or Bach Flower Remedies yourself, but I think your best bet is finding someone who's used natural remedies with children over many years. If she's been anxious for this long, it's not likely to be something that is treated on your own.

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