Alica asks:

Is this separation anxiety or something else?

I am the grandmom. My daughter in law will not let me take my four year old grandson over night or even out of her house. She states he has separation anxiety. After reading about it, it doesn't add up. When I go to pick him up to take him out, he is very excited , can't wait to leave, tries to get me to go and not talk with his mom. On the other hand when it is time for him to go home he doesn't want to. She said he has separation anxiety, because for ten days after he has spent time out with us he won't sleep and acts out. Is that separation anxiety, or something else?
In Topics: Anxiety
> 60 days ago



Hand in Hand
Apr 29, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Dear Alicia:

Your son and daughter-in-law and grandson are so fortunate that you are close by and wanting to play a supportive role in their lives!

Most parents do have lots of feelings about their little ones (or not-so-little ones) leaving them to go with someone else. These feelings come from worries about safety, but mostly, they come from a parent's own childhood. Feelings are funny that way: sometimes, feelings from the past are painted onto the present situation, and this happens a lot with parents. If you got lost in a grocery store, and panicked before you were found at the age of 4, the feeling of those scary moments can and does transfer on to the present moment, when your child is leaving with a perfectly safe person. It's not something conscious that happens, it just does.

I wouldn't advise saying anything to your daughter-in-law about this, because pointing out something like that doesn't really help. Just know that she, like every other mom, has some charged feelings about separation.

Second, it probably is true that she has a handful when you leave. The social center of a child's brain, where his own emotional memories are stored, is warmed and encouraged when someone new and attentive comes into a child's life and plays and pays warm attention. Then that child returns to his "normal" life, but intense feelings follow. The social center of the brain, where feelings of worry about separation or other things have been stored from past experiences, wants to let go of the emotional tension from any not-so-wonderful experiences. A child tries to find a way to have a good cry or a good tantrum, to sweep the old feelings out of his way. So he'll ask for things he knows his mom will say no to, or will want to stay up late, though he knows his Mom won't let him. Crying and tantrums release the emotional tension, and if a parent can move in, hold the limit with kindness and listen well, the child will have the chance to unload the feelings, and feel the love of the parent. Most parents don't know that this kind of listening will help, and they try to shush the child, or punish him for "acting up."

We call this kind of listening "Staylistening," and it's very beneficial. After a good cry, a child is cooperative, loving, eager to be part of the group, and much more sensible than before. His emotional deck is clear, and it's smooth sailing for awhile, until he needs his next good cry or tantrum to tidy things up again in his emotional mind.

You aren't usually there to help with this part. You might let his mom know of our website, and of this unusual but very effective way of handling children's emotional issues. I'll give you a link to the article on sleep, since that's one issue that lets his feelings erupt.

An alternative thing to do would be to give him "Special Time" at home, with his Mom there. You line out a period of time, not too long, and tell him that he can do whatever he wants to do, and you'll play with him whatever way he likes. Then, don't allow distractions, conversations with others, don't answer the phone, don't multitask. Just pay warm attention to him and play the way he wants to, unless it's dangerous or too expensive. It will help you build a special relationship with him, without having to leave home. When the time you've set aside is up, end it warmly, with a promise of more another time. This gives you a chance to offer your warmth and love, without leaving home. The mom and you will see that it's not a matter of separation that brings up his unruly feelings, because they will arise even after you've been at home with him, because he is feeling encouraged by your visit, and your good attention. So feelings will still skew his behavior: he just does need some chances to have a good cry, with someone who will be good with him, right close to him, all the way through.

There's more on this way of relieving children's tensions through listening in our booklets, Listening to Children, at the website below. There are lots of parent success stories, too, and many articles to help you understand this approach.

Good luck with your relationships with grandson and daughter-in-law. They are so fortunate to have you on their side!


Patty Wipfler
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Additional Answers (1)

native4christ writes:
If your grandson is clinging to either you or his parent(s) in an unusual manner that requires another person to step in and assist either of you with removing him in order for you to leave, it's safe to say he could be suffering from separation anxiety. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

However, it does sound as though your daughter-in-law is the one suffering with some separation issues, which in my personal opinion, can be a good thing. She is simply exercising her natural motherly instinct. She senses something is not right between her and her offspring and goes into parent protection mode. That's not a bad thing!! Rejection, on the other-hand, is something you would need to be more concerned about.

What you have described sounds more like a power struggle between you and your daughter-in-law, Never, Ever a good thing!!

Best advice would have to be, you be Grand-mom and let Mom be Mom.

Your grandson seems to already be showing signs of negativity towards his own Mother in favoritism of his Grandmother, which could have lifelong negative effects.

If he is acting out and having sleeping issues already, at four years old, imagine what bigger issues his parents will have to face when he becomes a teenager. It's not worth the struggle and future problems just for Grand-mom to be 1st place in his world.

I'm certain once your daughter-in-law senses that her place as parent is primary in her child's life and there is no longer a threat to their relationship, she will loosen her grip and allow more interaction between you and your grandson. Your actions and attitudes will have lots to do with just how long that process will take. Whatever you do, Don't ever encourage separation between a parent and its child.

Best wishes to you and your family.
> 60 days ago

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