S, was a young, first time mother who had just joined back her work after her son was 15 month old. Now, there was pressure from family to quit the job as her son would cry the whole day. She had tried quietly slipping out when he was either asleep or distracted, letting him cry a bit and then hoping his (good) nanny could manage.
We had a talk. She had to work as living in single salary was not possible and working from home or free lancing was not an option.
I am reproducing here, the tips I gave her, and the result, in the hope that they may be useful for some mothers
- Children manifest signs of separation anxiety as early as 6 months, but it actually gets worse around one year+ as the child is confused because his total dependence on the mother is coming to an end and those around him expect him to become independent. This conflict makes him fear that mother will leave him and hence the reaction.
- I told her to take a week of half-day duty and prepare the kid for her going away for some time. This week she was to leave at the fixed hour that she would other wise leave but come back half day.
- How to leave? The tactic of ‘Distract and run’ is absolutely wrong! Hug (& may be kiss) your kid when you leave, telling him where you are going and when you’ll be back. At 15 months, kids are capable of noticing a pattern and attaching meaning to it. If any child sees, half-a-dozen times, that mom says bye-bye (cheerfully!! Not with guilt), goes but returns, he will very likely understand that it’s no big deal that mom goes away. He will be sure it’s not for good!
- I cautioned her – no long drawn, tearful farewells. Definitely no “darling, mom is sad that she has to leave you” stuff.
- I also cautioned her, never come back to peep how is he behaving?
- She was relieved when she was told that he was quiet and busy playing the moment she was out of eyesight.
- After a week she told him, “Son, today mom has more work to do and will be late. Don’t trouble amma”. And believe me, he relented.
- After about 2 weeks, if someone was to ask him, “where is momma?” he would simply say “work”!
Although he accepted the fact that mom was going out for a length of time and did not trouble, his insecurity surfaced in another sphere! He was always a sound sleeper and would get 7 hours sleep without disturbing parents. Now he started getting up, tossing and turning and just mumbling momma, momma.
She approached me again, this time all ready to quit work. A repeat of separation anxiety ‘bhashan’ and some tips helped the child come out of the anxiety/ insecurity and S could continue her career without much trouble from the child.
All she told was to reassure/comfort him by minimum amount of verbal/physical contact (calling out his name, saying ‘mom is here; don’t worry’, touching him or just standing near the crib). Picking him up, carrying him around would certainly not worked as well.
Dr Chander Asrani, father to three daughters and grand father to one, is a post-graduate in Family Medicine. He has over 35 years in clinical practice, launched www.growingwell.com in 2000 and since then has been writing on various subjects. Know more about him at about.me/drasrani.