When my son was about ten months old, we finally decided to put him in the church nursery. As new parents we (or more accurately, I) was a bit paranoid about having someone else take care of my child, so I held him in the service with us until he just became too active and noisy and I knew it was time.
I tried my best to prepare him – I stayed with him in the nursery for a couple weeks so he could get used to it, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was anxious about leaving him, and he was anxious about being left. For the first month he gave me the most pitiful looks and gut-wrenching cries whenever I dropped him off.
That was my first real experience with separation anxiety, and since then I have had times with each of my kids when they were nervous about leaving me.
I do think it is important to make the time away from each other as positive and easy on my kids as possible, and to do that I need to figure out what is making them anxious. One of our children didn’t want to go to their class at church for a while, but we figured out that our child was uncomfortable with someone in the class – we switched to a different classroom and it was fine. My kids might get nervous because of the unknown. If I stay with them the first couple times in a new situation, they adjust quickly and it’s not a problem for me to leave anymore. Sometimes there are definite things I can do to make a situation more comfortable for my child, and I will do that wherever I can.
But sometimes you just can’t fix everything.
As a mom, that is so hard for me to think about. I don’t want my kids to feel fearful, and I wish I could magically take away all their anxieties. But the bottom line is that’s not my role. I can’t always be with them. I can’t take away their fears. So I need to point my kids to the one Who can. I want them to remember that God will always be with them, even when I’m not.
A great book for teaching this concept to kids is God Watches Over Me. This would be a perfect book to read to your kids before leaving them in a new situation, to keep the thought that God watches over us and takes care of us at the forefront of their minds.
If I’m honest with myself, this is a reminder that I need as well. Separation anxiety can be just as difficult for me as it is for my kids. It still hits me in the gut every time I hear one of them crying. I sneak back to check on them, and I worry about how they are doing. But I need to remember that when I am not with my kids, God still sees them. I want to spend more time on my knees praying for my kids than I do worrying about them.
When I was growing up, one verse that my mom taught my siblings and me was Isaiah 41:10, for times when we felt anxious. Now that my kids are old enough to memorize verses, I think this is one we will be adding to the list.
“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
I love that verse because it tells kids everything they need to know to help them overcome separation anxiety, in a nutshell.
God is with them.
He will help them.
And they don’t need to fear.
My kids may have to deal with separation anxiety many more times in the future, but I think if I can plant that verse in their little hearts, they’ll have what they need to overcome their fear and go bravely into new situations – as they remember that there is Someone who loves them and will never leave them when they put their trust in Him.