Separation Anxiety in a Preschooler

Our lives have changed slightly recently.  Not vastly, or at least not to my adult brain.  To the brain of a three year old the change is obviously a lot greater.  Hubby is now traveling a lot for work.

This travel is often erratic, there is no pattern, it can be relatively last minute and although it isn’t for long, maybe a couple of days and nights, that is a long time when you are three.  To be clear I am fine with all of this, I am embracing the positives because if I didn’t that wouldn’t achieve anything.  I now get a couple of evenings to myself in a month (sometimes more).  I get to watch whatever I want, I can cook meals Hubby isn’t keen on, I get to be alone with my own thoughts once the girls are in bed.  It helps me reset.  Pinky, however, is not coping well.

Recently she has become very moody.  I understand that part of this comes with being three and a half but her outbursts have been a little different to the usual tantrum.  Ever since she was born she has been referred to as a ‘velcro baby’, a Mummys girl.  These last few weeks she has very much been a Daddy’s girl.  In the mornings she goes to him for cuddles.  She wants him to get her dressed, brush her teeth.  She wants Daddy to read her stories and to put her to bed.  All of this is lovely on the surface of it.  The fact that it is a direct reaction to him going away for work is what makes it hard.  As soon as the front door shuts behind him her whole mood changes.  She will go from happy and giggly to miserable and nasty.  The tears are free flowing over anything and everything.  This last week it has progressed fro being generally tearful to being outwardly angry.  Pinky has always had a great foot stomp but now she does it with the intent of causing pain.  She has started punching the floor, gritting her teeth and screaming in anger.  None of this is normal behaviour for her.  I was pretty satisfied with the idea that this was a phase that would pass in due time, she would soon get used to this change in our lives.  Now I’m a bit more concerned that the phase isn’t passing fast enough.

I decided I would do a little reading to make sure that I was doing everything I could to help her.  I have struggled to find anything really useful online as most websites only cover separation anxiety in relation to daycare of the younger toddler.  Pinkys preschool stage isn’t as well documented, nor is the ‘traveling parent’ scenario.  However, I think some of the advice is useful in general.

After much digging www.parenting.com gives the following advise for separation anxiety: http://www.parenting.com/article/separation-anxiety-age-by-age

  • Let your child know it’s onto feel nervous: I try and let Pinky know it is ok to miss Daddy… This seem to anger her further… I don’t know why.  Telling her that I miss him too is even worse.
  • Plan so extra one on one time: I have tried to do this but it isn’t easy.  She has a little sister, I can just take Pinky out.  We did go out for lunch the other week just the three of us and it was lovely.  It may not have been one on one time but it did remind her that I could be fun too.  We didn’t need Daddy to do nice things.
  • Develop a predictable bedtime routine: Well…. Pinky has had a predictable bedtime routine since she has been 12 weeks old! It has adapted slowly as she has gotten older but essentially it’s exactly the same.  She has still had the predictable sleep regressions and we have still had the awful soul destroying weeks that have require all of mine and Hubbys willpower not to cave in.  She is now playing up at bedtime when Hubby is away…. I think she can smell my weakness.
  • Do your best not to cave in:  I am the most stubborn person I know.  Pinky has inherited this!  It’s a stand off for days.

I found www.help.org much more useful http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-in-children.htm.  It lists some of the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety including reluctance to go to sleep and why. Check. Cling to the care giver. Check (she wont let Daddy go).  Fear that something terrible will happen. Check.  She simply likes having Daddy around, he makes her feel safe.

This website gives much of the above advise but it also has a couple of other points:

  • Develop a good bye ritual:  We have had one of these since she was born.  Hubby always says the same things to her as he leaves to go to work, traveling or not.
  • Leave without a fanfare:  Hubby also does this very well already.  It’s the usual good bye and he’s gone.
  • Have a consistent care giver:  I am a stay at home mum.  I couldn’t be more consistent if I tried.
  • Keep familiar surroundings when possible:  Well quite simply I do.  We don’t go far when Hubby is away.  Just our usual playground and walks.
  • Try not to give in: Again… stubborn!

The one piece of advise most people agree on is don’t use the phrase “be a big girl”.  I am very guilty of this so from now on I will not be saying this!  I will hold my tongue and tell her everything is ok.  I have taken solace in the fact that I have already implemented most of the advice so hopefully this stage will pass as quickly as it came.

Are there any other techniques you would recommend? Has anyone else been through anything similar?

This post originally appear on Meet Other Mums where I am very proud to be a regular blogger.

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Parenting Bribery 101

I recently wrote about my Unexpected Mummy Skills and a comment by Lucy at This Mums Life asking about my bribery skills has inspired this post.  It has occurred to me that I am a master in bribery.  I am not bothered that I do it, I don’t feel guilty because quite frankly it gets the job done.  I have found throughout this parenting rollercoaster that a single approach to the ‘negotiation’ will not work.  There are many variables that need to be taken into account such as why is the bribe needed? What are you trying to achieve from this? Can I reasonably uphold this bribe at a future date? You wouldn’t want to promise a trip to the zoo simply in exchange for a toddler putting their shoes on…. Trust me they will rememberer from now until eternity that putting their shoes on should get them to the zoo, not a mouldy old cookie.

Now I suspect (but could be wrong) that there are two types of people reading this now… Those that eagerly await my thoughts and tips on bribery.  Welcome! I take it you are parents to toddlers, possibly at the age of 2 – 4 years old.  What I like to call the ‘Prime Manipulatable Years’ or ‘PMY’s’.  I feel your desperation for five minutes peace.  Or, perhaps  you have already been here and done it.  Please tell me the need for such frequent bribes ends soon.

There will, of course, be those feeling a little curious about the title but think offering a biscuit is a good enough bribe, or that you shouldn’t bribe your child at all!  (Do these people really exist outside of baby books?) You should bring them up to respect your authority as a parent.  Welcome also, feel free to continue reading even if you disagree with me.  Once your child hits the PMY’s feel free to refer back here, you may finally understand what I am talking about.  Perhaps you might like to ‘bookmark’ this post for future reference?  I too used to think bribing your children was for the weaker parent.  I was wrong! Oh, so very wrong.  Now if there was a Masters degree in this subject I would pass it with first class honours.

So on to the types of bribes:

The ‘Go and sit down’ bribe: Usually a simple snack, ideally healthy (I keep the unhealthy ones for more important bribes).  This won’t buy you much time but it will allow you to make that cup of coffee you so desperately want without the child hanging off your waist and risking third degree burns.  If you chose a large apple you may have enough time to drink some of said coffee before they finish their snack and resume their previous position around your leg.  How do they hold on tighter than a Greenpeace Environmentalist attached to a tree?

The ‘please put your shoes on NOW’ bribe:  This has two subsections!

  1. We are just going for a walk to get out of the house before Mummy goes certifiably crazy: Use a biscuit.  If it has chocolate in it you will get out the house, on average, three times faster.
  2. We are going out to meet friends/family: Have the treat ready (out of sight) but ensure they know they can only have it when you arrive at your destination in a timely manor.  If I’m feel particularly mean I will also promise something I was already going to provide whilst out and about, that way they think they have earned it and you get them out of the effing house!

The ‘I need five minutes peace’ bribe:  This will vary from child to child.  Pick their favourite activity or toy (other than the comforter) and hide it! Yep, hide it!  Then when you need some peace and quite bring it out.  For Pinky and Perky it is painting.  We have some cool glitter paints which are hidden in a cupboard and I went out and bought a large roll of white wallpaper liner from Homebase.  You can get loads of the stuff for about £5 or £6.  It’s much thicker than standard paper so it doesn’t t break as easily with sharp pencils or too much paint.  Granted this takes a bit if time to prepare but once they are set up and ready to paint I can get a good ten minutes of peace.  It might not be quiet as such but they aren’t saying ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy’  every twenty seconds.

The ‘Reeeeally late bedtime’ bribe*:  I usually use this on a Sunday, and sometimes every other day of the week depending on how fed up I am.  Pinky likes to ‘stay up late’.  She won’t go to be unless Perky is already in bed.  Easily solved… Off to bed Perky.  However, sometimes this isn’t enough so in the interest of keeping the balance I will occasionally let her think she is staying up even later than normal.  This involves doing dinner a little earlier, doing the bath a little earlier, closing all the curtains and making everything cozy.  Then when ready for bed we get into my bed and either watch a cartoon or read a book.  This may kill about 10 minutes then its bedtime.  Pinky thinks she has stayed up really late, in actual fact she is in bed half and hour earlier than normal.  Now that was easy I hear you say… well there is a little more to it.  Sometimes she is so tired that it is ok she is in bed early, mostly though it just means she spends the next two hours going in and out of her room…. So heres the real bribe (no the cartoon was only half of it).  I tell her if she is ‘good’ and goes straight to sleep and doesn’t get up then we will go to the park or soft play in the morning after breakfast.  Really the reward is up to you but for that extra half an hour of child free evening time I guarantee it’s worth it.

The ‘Eat your dinner’ bribe:  I know what you’re thinking, that one is easy, it’s pudding.  Well, not in our house it isn’t.  I once heard a Health Visitor explain to a worried mum that although it could be tempting to use the yogurt as a way to get a child to eat their dinner it can be detrimental in the long run.  She explained that using it as a treat always makes it something they will crave.  Instead, always offer the yogurt.  That way it becomes as normal as the dinner itself.  Plus children don’t have the same food hang ups as an adult does so they really won’t deliberately starve themselves.  After a couple of missed meals they will soon eat!  This little nugget of advice really stuck with me, I wasn’t even a parent when I heard it.  So this eat all your dinner bride has taken a little imagination on my part.  This is a deprivation bribe really.  ‘If you don’t eat your dinner you won’t get…’ Pick your own thing your child would respond to.  Pinky responds to no Paw Patrol, or other cartoon of choice the next day.  And believe me she knows I will stick to it.

Some days I simply ask the girls to do things for me rather than trying to bribe them.  ‘Please stop annoying your sister.’ ‘Please share your toys, she had that first anyway!’  These days I am clearly delusional with sleep deprivation!

Bribing works, accept it, embrace it and move on.

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t use bribery with their children? If so please, please, please share your secrets with us all.

*This will only work until they are able to tell the time. Use it whilst you can my friend!

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Dear Bear and Beany

Second Child Syndrome

In a life, that now feels decades ago, when it was just me with a second baby bump and Pinky (and Hubby of course) friends and strangers all told me about ‘Second Child Syndrome’. At the time I simply vaguely listened, with a small, slightly vacant smile on my face. I didn’t really understand, first time parenting can be very stressful. Scrap that! All parenting is stressful but first time has its own extra charm. Everything is new, no stage has happened to you as parent before and although many stages are easy to embrace some are down right startling. Just because you know the terrible twos exist doesn’t make them any less of a surprise when they arrive. The first ever baby poo you get warned about…. There are no words to really prepare you for that, only experience can ease the shock. Add pregnancy hormones into the mix and everything is seems more overwhelming when talking to friends happily in the two child zone. So the idea that second time around could be easier was appealing but seemed incredibly unlikely.
Then the second labour came. It was easier. I mean realistically it hurt more, it was a longer process (both inductions but one longer than the other) but it wasn’t a shock. The memory of the pain was somewhere buried in my brain. The lack of sleep during labour was less of a shock as I already had had nearly two years parenting experience which comes with its own built-it sleep deprivation department. Quite simply I coped. Then Perky arrived. The sudden flow of love of no less overwhelming but again I expected it. Feeding was easier, also helped by the fact that Perky didn’t have tongue tie unlike Pinky (another story I will leave for another time). In essence although everything has been challenging second time round because I have been through it before the shock aspect is missing. I think it is the surprise element that the first child can utilise is what makes parenting so different first time.
Part of the less shocking parenting means that my approach is more relaxed. Obviously I am as rigid about the whole putting ‘inappropriate unidentifiable objects in the mouth’ thing, and still strict on the whole manners stuff. But second time around I’m more relaxed about most things. This, I think, is much of the cause of the ‘Second Child Syndrome’.
Perky definitely gets away with things Pinky never would have. Part of this is that she has an older sister she wants to keep up with. Perky idolises Pinky and she learns directly from her. In her daily attempt to keep up with her sister her physical stamina is greater, at only 18 months she has practically cut out her daily nap. If she sleeps for an hour it’s been a brilliant day (please insert virtual hug of sympathy here). Her spoken language is slightly slower, she doesn’t tell you what noise a cow makes on demand like Pinky could at this age. Her spoken language comes out in other ways and actual words are fewer. For example yesterday she passed wind, guffed, trumped, farted, botty popped, whatever you call it, she looked at me, pointed at her bum and very clearly said ‘pardon me.’ As clear as this was she still can’t tell me consistently what noise a dog makes no matter how much we practice and some days ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ are words that leave a lot to be desired. However because Perky has a three year old sister there is constant talking in our house, from the moment we get up until the moment we go to bed and because of this her understanding of language is unbelievable. Perkys’ non verbal communication is also very good. With Pinky I had the time to decipher her moans, groans and grunts. If she pointed in a vague direction I could work out what she wanted after some trail and error. I do not have all this spare time to decipher these things anymore as I also have a three year old that has needs that require meeting, usually at the same effing time as her sisters. This has meant that Perky very quickly learnt an effective method to grunt and point which communicated her need to me the first time of asking. Her nodding and shaking of her head is always accurate and reliable and her finger point would hit the bullseye on a target every time.
Hubby passed comment the other day about how loud Perky is in comparison to her sister. This is a true comment, she is louder than Pinky has ever been, even now she is older. I firmly believe this is due to her ‘Second Child Syndrome’. If she wants to be heard over her sister who can talk and convey her requests then she needs to shout louder!
It may not be diagnosable but Second Child Syndrome is a real thing. Mostly I think it’s a good thing. It’s a sign that as a parent you are learning from previous experience and possible mistakes, it’s a sign you are evolving and adapting. If along the way you can also learn to cut yourself some slack and lose a little of the ‘Mummy Guilt’ then you really are winning.
I’m still working on that last bit…..

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Hot Pink Wellingtons

Introducing Pocket Money

We have reached the ‘I would like that’ stage whilst watching the TV or looking at a magazine. Almost all the toys Pinky sees she believes she would like. Now experience has shown me two things Yes she will like and play with pretty much any toy put in front of her.

This novelty wears off within approximately two minutes and said toy becomes abandoned in the middle of the room for and old faithful. It may or may not be played with again in a weeks time.
With point 2. in mind I am understandably reluctant to buy her everything that glitters, sparkles, sings and rolls in her direction. I still remember the excitement of looking through the toy section of the Argos catalogue hoping, praying, keeping all fingers crossed that Santa would bring me whatever it was I desired the most. Probably a princess castle or a Disney doll. Santa didn’t often disappoint, but my parents did regularly. They often said ‘No, you can’t have that.’ and as I remember it of course I was disappointed, sometimes even down right upset, but I did understand. Things cost money and we really didn’t have that much to splash on any toy I demanded. I’m not looking for the world tiniest violin here because I never saw the lack of money as an issue. What my parents did do was instil a really strong sense of the value of money. How much things cost, how you earn money, the importance of saving some. I’m not sure when this all started with me but I suspect fairly young as it just feels like I’ve always known this stuff.
A couple of days ago I went to the local supermarket to pick up a couple of essentials. We ended up in the kiddy crafts aisle (not sure how else to describe it) and Pinky asked if she could have some stickers. I said no but that she could have some paint stuff instead. This of course ended up being more expensive but we have stickers at home already and I just end up picking them up off the floor after they fall off her clothes. I also figured that the painting stuff would last more than a day and it was something we could probably do together. It did get me thinking though, maybe it is time for pocket money. Pinky can count a bit, she understands that the coins are different even if she hasn’t quite grasped why and she really enjoys helping me with chores at the moment. I discussed this with her and Hubby and that was it decided.
We don’t expect her to do too much. It’s little things such as tidying up her toys at the end of the day. She helps me load and unload the dishwasher and sometimes will help with the laundry. As she gets older I will get her doing these things independently but for now it’s a ‘sowing the seed’ exercise.
After a couple of days she had £1.50 in her little purse ready to spend. She kept mentioning it in conversation as if it were no big deal but she was obviously thrilled by the idea of going to the shop soon. Since we weren’t actually planning on going anywhere near a shop and she clearly wasn’t going to wait to spend her hard earned cash Hubby took her out on her own to the shop. Apparently she had ideas of buying crayons but she didn’t have enough yet (bless her!!!!) so they went to sweetie aisle. Part of the deal of the money is that she can buy whatever she wants if she had enough and we won’t say no to her, unless it’s dangerous of course. So when she realised she could buy sweets I think the whole foundation of her existence changed. This was a whole new world.
Pinky very proudly came home with a pack of fruit pastels for herself and a bag of chocolate buttons for her little sister. It was apparently completely her idea to buy Perky something, Hubby made no hint towards it. Bless her again!!! It was one of those moments as a parent where I really felt like I was winning.
Each day Pinky asks how she can help and then duly collects her coins. The concept of saving up and actual value will take time, it may even cause some tantrums along the way, but it will be worth it. At three and a half Pinky may be too young to start this, when Perky hits this age I may decide to wait a little longer. However Pinky is fairly intelligent (not a genius but she isn’t stupid) and willing to learn. She may not be buying herself the type of toys she will ask Santa for as at her current rate of earning it may take her a decade to save enough for a new scooter, but she will be able to buy herself the stickers I always say no to, or the pack of sweets I refuse her. It will be her money that she must earn and she can do what she wants with it. I hope that value and sense of achievement goes with her into adulthood.

In the dark dark house

In a dark dark street (floodlit by streetlights), there was a dark dark house (the outside light was probably left on by mistake again), there were some dark dark stairs (soooo many stairs, bloody town house) and at the top of the stairs there was a dark dark bedroom, in that dark dark bedroom was a little girl who was paralysingly afraid of the dark. Does anyone else remember the Funnybones? I used to love that cartoon.  I must get the book for the girls.  I digress…. To the point!
Recently Pinky has been complaining that her clock is ‘screaming’. After a quick investigation we discovered that the plug for her GroClock was making an awful high pitched squeal. We decided to condemn it ourselves. We did check it wasn’t the wall socket, and it made the noise in all outlets. As a side note we called the GroClock company and we had a replacement sent two days later (we just missed next day post) and they have asked we send back the old one (freepost👍🏻) so they can investigate. I know not many kids respond well to this clock that is designed to indicate an appropriate time to get up in the morning, however Pinky does. She totally gets it, she has even worked out that the little stars around the edge reduce over the night to indicate how much time is left until morning. Clever girl. This has has taken time and perseverance… So much perseverance…. Both Hubby and I had forgotten that the clock initially served as a night light. I can’t remember what age Pinky suddenly took great offence to the dark but I think it was around 2. The other little light we got her is a Lindum owl lantern. We all love it, it’s cute, but most importantly it only stays on for 20 minutes so we don’t have to go and turn it off and the batteries don’t get drained in one night. This gets used at bedtime and Pinky takes it with her if she needs a midnight toilet trip.
So to the point of my ramblings…. Bedtime went swimmingly. Stories, lights out, owl on, acknowledged the lack of clock…. Never mind it’ll be fixed soon. Our bedtime comes, our lights out, cosy satisfying sleep. So so cosy.
‘HELP ME!!! HELP ME!!!’ Hubby goes flying into Pinkys room to find her half sat up, half reclined, almost paralysed with fear, shaking, tears in her eyes. I’m laughing as I write this but mostly because if I don’t I might cry a little. Bless her cotton socks. The owl light went on and everyone went back to bed, I could here Pinky talking to her toys all happy again. 20 minutes later just as we had managed to drift back off into the land of nod…. The owl goes off and the screaming starts again. Fortunately we happened to have a plug in light that we dug out of the depths of the wardrobe or a draw or a box somewhere (my memory at 3am isn’t brilliant). This little plug solved the problem until the new power supply for the clock arrived. Happy days!
I decided not to bring the incident up with Pinky, mostly because I didn’t think that much of it but partly because I didn’t want to make her fear of the dark a big issue. As we were out on a little walk she decided to talk to me about it. What she described was the stuff of nightmares! She said the darkness went into her eyes and filled them. Her words no embellishment. She explained how the darkness held her down and stopped her from moving. Again, her words not mine. Then lastly she explained how the darkness was thick and scary. I’m not afraid of the dark. To the best of my knowledge neither is Hubby. I don’t ever really remember being afraid as a child but maybe I was. I do remember having a cuddly glow worm night light, but I’m not sure if it was bought for the night light aspect or because it was cute. Either way what Pinky described sounded terrifying even for an adult so for a poor little three year olds brain it must have been awful.
Lesson learnt. Night lights are essential, at least for now!

Dear Bear and Beany