Playing Away Separation Anxiety

Playlistening is where we find a way to follow the laughter with our child, with them “in charge”. Light in touch, it can none-the-less acheive remakable things.

Here, a mother pretends to be upset that her son is leaving.  This allows him to take the powerful role – reassuring her that he will be back soon.  My experience is that just working through experiences from this vantage point – being the one in charge and in control, allows healing of emotional tension, in and of itself.  Then add the powerful balm of laughter – allowing lighter levels of fear and embarrassment to peel off.  There’s nothing guaranteed to make a child laugh more than an adult occupying the position of being less powerful less competent, cheerfully stupid.

And here, in this story, we get a glimpse that we are often working with our children, in partnership in the quest for emotional healing and releif, in a deep and powerful way.  This little boy knows he wants to be rid of his fears about leaving his mother.  He knows  she is pretending. But he asks for it anyway, as if to say “hey mummy, lets have another go at getting rid of my fears about leaving you!”.  I love it when this happens.  Our children are soooo smart.  And so are we!

My older son, J, has had many stages of struggling with separation anxiety. The birth of his baby brother brought up many feelings for him. He had settled into a positive routine with preschool, but once his brother was born, he began saying he didn’t want to go to school and would get tearful and resistant to me leaving him at drop-off. Many of the old feelings and behaviors that I thought had been resolved came to the surface.

I decided to use Playlistening to help him work through and heal some of his feelings around separation.  We played the “Don’t Leave I Will Miss You Too Much” game. Any time J had plans to go anywhere without me, I would dramatically beg for him not to go, telling him I would miss him too much. He immediately took to this game. He would be getting ready to go on a bike ride with his dad and I would hug him tight and say “This must be a joke! You aren’t really leaving are you? What will I do without you? You just have to stay, Daddy can go on a bike ride without you, OK?” He would laugh hysterically and reassure me that he would be back soon.

When his grandparents were visiting and they were all heading out for an outing while I stayed at home with his baby brother, I would act shocked when he said goodbye, saying “WHAT? You aren’t actually leaving are you? You don’t need to go, we can just have fun here, it will be great; you don’t need to go anywhere!” He would laugh and laugh and tell me he was going to go and egg me on to become even more dramatic about his departure.

As he continued to delight in this game, I started playing it on the way to preschool, telling him that I was going to turn around and go back home and that he couldn’t go to school because I would miss him too much. He would laugh and say reassuring things to me like “Mommy! I will be back soon! It’s just for the morning; I have to go to school!” We consistently played this game for a couple weeks. Often on the way to school he would request for me to play the “don’t leave” game and tell me to pretend that I will miss him too much.

Even though his brother is now over a year old, and that time of separation anxiety has passed, he still requests that we play that game sometimes, and I will automatically play it if I can sense that he is struggling with separating from me.

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© 2020 by Madeleine Winter.

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