Selective Separation Anxiety

That’s right, selective separation anxiety is what I think Phoebie is experiencing recently. Why do I say her separation anxiety is selective? Because she doesn’t always find it hard to leave me, or for me to leave her.

When we go to playgrounds, she can run off and play while I sit at the side. No Problem.

When we go to church on Sundays, she loves going for Sunday School and leaves us after getting her tag. No problem.

When she goes to school, she goes into the classroom on her own. No problem.


Recently, she has been unable to separate from me under certain circumstances. And these circumstances really puzzle me because her separation anxiety happens in places she is most familiar with.

Since we moved back to Singapore from the US in October last year, we have been staying with my parents. Phoebie took a while to adjust to living with them and has learnt to interact with them. In the last couple of weeks, she practically follows me everywhere I go around the house. If I am washing my hair, she is there. When I am watching tv, she must squeeze on the same seat.

The worst time is when I have to answer nature’s call. When I tell her, “Mummy is going to the toilet. Can you wait for me here and play with your toys? Mummy will be right back.” She immediately puts her toys down, stands up, starts to whine and insists on following me to the loo. My parents are the kind of grandparents who cannot really tolerate their grandchild’s cries (and that’s another story for another time), so I have been giving in and allowing her to follow.

I thought that things will be different when she has friends to play with, so when we were at my friend’s place for a play date, and mind you, it was a home she is familiar with, I thought I could finally go to the loo alone. Alas, I was wrong! She did the same thing she did at home – put down her toys, stood up, started to whine and insisted on following me.

Some people think the best way to avoid a whining child is to sneak away while the child is busy, but after reading many articles and through my own experience, I know that is not a good thing to do. Firstly, I feel guilty “abandoning” Phoebie. Secondly, when Phoebie suddenly realizes I am missing, she feels lost and scared. Lastly, this clearly shows her that Mummy is not trustworthy because Mummy will “disappear” without notification.

When Phoebie was younger and had more severe and constant separation anxiety, I would prepare her by telling her in advance that I would be going somewhere and assure her I will be back. And I would make my goodbyes short and sweet. A quick hug and kiss and I was out the door. Of course, Phoebie would cry, and I would feel horrible, but as she adjusted over time, I felt better.

What puzzles me about her recent selective bout of separation anxiety is, I don’t know why she has it! I read an article online about separation anxiety in a preschooler, and still can’t quite figure out why. I also wonder if this behaviour is also linked to her sleeping habits these days.

Sigh… We will be moving back to our own home in a couple of months, and she will have to adjust to a home that is new to her again. Looks like she might glue herself to me. While I find it endearing that she wants to be with me this much, it can also be tiring and a tad annoying. And she doesn’t even want her Papa sometimes… So no one can “sub” me…

Oh the life of a stay-at-home-mum.


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