Learning to Separate

I have been home with my five year old since his birth but just recently I started working part time, with irregular hours. Now my son will not leave my side. He thinks that if he does not see me I will leave. I can’t even go to the restroom without him or he’ll throw a fit. I do not know what to do. My husband gets upset with me and blames me and I also blame myself because I would never let him stay over at relatives’ homes. I am overly protective of my children. What can I do? How do I help him to be independent?

This is a big adjustment for both you and your son. I always tell parents of younger children to be sure to go out sometimes and leave the child with a sitter, so that the child can learn quite early that if you leave you will always come back. A child who has never been left doesn’t have the assurance that a parent leaving isn’t permanent.

However, that’s all “water under the bridge” now, and blaming yourself will do no good, nor will your husband blaming you. Blame is like a “ball of fire” that we throw around at one another when we are frustrated, and it can destroy families. The important thing is to acknowledge the past mistake and move on.

Your son is old enough for explanations. Tell him that you are not going to go out without him knowing, so he doesn’t need to worry that you will leave behind his back.
I know you may be tempted to do this to avoid a fuss, but this will only make him more anxious in the long run. Tell him that you will always let him know before you go.

Each time you have to leave, explain to him in clear, simple language where you are going and when you will be back. If you get a chance to show him your workplace, that may help, since he will know where you are when you aren’t with him.

If your son is with your husband or relatives or a reliable sitter, and you know he’s safe, you just need to turn your back and go to work Do not make yourself late by hanging around until he calms down, because if this happens he will learn not to calm down. If his caregivers have difficulty handling him, they can promise him an incentive like a snack or a video if he cooperates with them. They can also remind him of where you are and when you will be back. Teach him to tell time, so that he can understand when you’re coming back.

Since your son is five, he might also benefit from some time “going out” himself, to a playgroup or activity with other children his age. After all, he will be starting school soon, and he needs to learn to socialize and to handle separations so he’ll be ready when school begins.

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