Reader Question – Separation Anxiety

Dear Kate,
My little boy is 2 and every now and then decides that for 5 minutes he’s terrified of one of his loved ones. He can be excited for papa coming home then when papa walks in the door he runs away screaming in hysterical terror. Or be playing with my parents happily. Then suddenly refuse to even look at them and starts acting “scared.”
He can cry for me in the mornings then when I open the door flee bashing into walls and screaming in terror. He’s rarely out of my sight. I would never hurt him nor would anyone else. He’s been treated with nothing but love and has no reason to fear these people. He’s not shy by nature but very confident.
And 90% of the time adores his family. Then this. It’s hard not to be hurt. I don’t know why he does it or what to do. I’ve tried making a game but he gets more hysterical. Tried kissing it away but he needs space, and attacks me. It does pass after a few minutes but it’s not good for anyone while it lasts as he runs into things and could hurt himself. Any advice gratefully received, From ‘E’
Dear ‘E,’
thanks for your message. It sounds like your son is experiencing sudden bursts of separation anxiety. Often our children use normal, everyday safe situations, to ‘pin’ their fears on them, so they can have the chance to express and heal from them. It can seem strange to us when our child has a great relationship with their father/grandparents etc.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of all children’s development. It can also be related to
our child’s early life, and if they experienced any stress or difficulties.  For example stress in pregnancy, a difficult birth, or medical intervention that involved separating from the parents, even for a brief time can cause strong separation anxiety.
Hand in Hand parenting has five tools that can all be used to strengthen connection with our children and that can help reduce separation anxiety. Reading the Hand in Hand parenting booklet set, and putting all these tools into practise can really help.
As you noticed play in the moment of upset didn’t work. So I’d focus on staying with whatever emotion comes up for your son in that moment (rather than trying to shift away from that emotion). So if he’s crying or angry just try staying close, and listening to the upset. This can help your son to process the feelings behind his outbursts. This is the Hand in Hand parenting tool of staylistening.
Here is a story about when my husband came home from work, and my daughter was suddenly afraid of him. She was much younger than your son, but the listening principles are still the same.
At other times when your son is happy or fine, and in a playful mood you might want to try some of these playful games games to heal separation anxiety.
 You might also like to read this article Helping Children Conquer Their Fears.
I hope this helps. Feel free to get in touch, and let me know how it goes!
Would you like a Hand in Hand parenting solution for your family challenge? Leave me a comment or use the contact form here

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