Parent Question: I have two-and-a-half year old twins who are experiencing separation issues. One has separation anxiety from me during the day, and the other one at night (meaning he wants me to hold, rock, or sleep with him all night long). It started a few weeks ago and each subsequent night has gotten worse. My other twin has had separation issues since he was a baby, but now he is able to sleep alone and stays asleep. I would love to start to leave them at the gym day care for about an hour while I work out, but it has not been going well. I have tried multiple times, but the child with daytime separation gets very upset, crys, shakes, and gets physical with the childcare provider. I tried a bigger gym with more activity in the child care room. Do you have any tips to help them? They are scheduled to attend preschool next fall, but until then they are at home with me.
Answer: The unfortunate thing with anxiety issues is that the children need to have experience working through it and being fine on the other side of it for the anxiety to lessen. The more you stay with them through the night or pull them from childcare, the more they feel that its a scary thing and that they do need you there. I am not saying bail on them and let them be miserable, but I am saying don’t give up on the idea and learn to help them through it. If you do have a sitter or relative that they stay with well, give them more regular experience there. There is a free 20 minutes on seperation at http://www.parentsperspective.org/, search for ‘Hackney.’ There is my full hour on http://www.askdrrene.com/. There is also a good brochure called Separation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
For sleep, there are check-in methods (Mindell) and gradual move-out methods (Brazelton) that may be helpful here. Both are sending the message, bed is where they belong, and it is a good, safe place to be. The books are Sleeping Through the Night by Mindell or Sleep the Brazelton way.
Sincerely, Dr. Rene