Thursday

Exacerbating Son's Separation Anxiety

OPINION
I just started my first ever live-in position for a single mother and her 7-year-old Autistic son. The mother travels for work and I am left with the son for 2-5 days at a time. The son does have a bit of separation anxiety, which I have dealt with before, but never with a parent who seems to make it worse. The mother will talk about leaving for her trip hours before she goes, which causes her son to start crying at the mention of it, and then have a prolonged goodbye where she will not leave until he is crying. It's very strange to watch and I don't know how to tactfully approach the issue. The son is very attuned to the fact that his mother is responsive to his crying. He has told me, "I will tell mom I was crying when you don't let me watch television!" and then when they Skype, the first thing he says is, "Mommy, I cried today!"

He sees a therapist for his autism and the mom told me when I first started that she didn't like the therapist because the therapist told her that her son feels responsible for other people's feelings. Having been here a few months, I 100% agree. I would like to make this relationship work because when the mother is gone, the son does incredibly well. I made a big move for this job and aside from the mother, I enjoy working with the son very much. He's a very fun and intelligent little boy. My one blunder was not discussing discipline in detail with the mother, and now I can see that it basically doesn't exist in this household. What can I do or say to help show the mother is exacerbating her son's separation anxiety and creating a very dysfunctional relationship by being so responsive to him when he cries? - Anonymous

24 comments:

knittynanny said...

This might sound mean. I hope it doesn't. But maybe you're mb likes him to cry for her before leaving because she feels more loved? I'm not sure. An old mb of mine would be all dramatic before leaving and I think it was on propose. I'm like..."They're not looking at you! Just sneak out!".

I would definitely bring up the discipline issue. Just say "what should I do when he does ___?"

knittynanny said...

Sorry for any typos. This phone is STUPID.

OP said...

That is definitely the issue. It does make her feel more loved, but it's so draining for her son (and not to mention, me!). Any advice?

-OP

just sayin' said...

knittynanny, I kind of thought the same thing and OP you clarified, thank you!

As far as discipline, that will probably be easier to approach than the issue of her leaving him crying. Simply ask what type she uses. You being a nanny can help improve upon her ideas if she's open to it.

As for the leaving, thats a hard one. I hate to say it but I could see myself doing the same thing, and its WRONG. I think MB feels insecure. If you don't think it would help the child by explaining he'll see mom soon, skype with her, etc, to calm him down, you need to tactfully approach her and say you think it'd be best for him if she didn't say goodbye until 10min before she left. She can cuddle with him first thing when they wake up or right before bed if she needs his loving so much.

knittynanny said...

I'm sorry. But this is bothering me. Every time I see it, I try to ignore it, but I can't. That "you're" in the second line of my comment is supposed to be "your".

Sorry. I hate it when my phone autocorrects stuff.

EastBay Nanny said...

First an foremost it is important for parents to inform their kids that they will soon disappear. Always. Sneaking out is a mistake- it disrupts trust and increases anxiety over the long term. So there is great value in this mom informing her son. BUT talking with mom about a consistent routine when it is a day that she leaves would really help him. Maybe they will always have ice cream together before she leaves town? Something consistent that cues him in so that he can process and prepare. I wonder if mom just wants to be sure he understands he hears her? But it's a mistake on mom's part to prolong it. A heads up: "ok when we finish our ice cream it's mom's turn to travel- anything you want to let her know before we're done?". Doing this together with all three of you might be ideal. Doesn't have to be a food treat- maybe a park visit? Then within 5-10 mins, mom should be gone and any crying, reaching, tantrumming dealt with calmly and matter of factly. Mom needs to show confidence when she is separating so that kiddo gets the message that he's in good hands.

Caring Mom All Day said...
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just sayin' said...

Great idea EBN!

OP, yes! Finding something consistent that the child can attach to and learn that mom is leaving would be really nice. Something that can't change. Like reading a special book together and only that book. Maybe a book at his level about saying goodbye, but knowing mommy will be back soon?

Caring Mom All Day said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melanie Raye Castor said...

I am a fan of the quick goodbye...drawing it out just makes everything so emotional and dramatic, in my opinion.

Wednesday said...

I had an mb that would try that. You could totally see right through her. It would have pissed me off had it actually worked but instead he wriggled out of her arms so he could get back to playing with his toy workbench. Ha. She wouldn't back off until he said everything she wanted him to say. "goodbye, mommy. I love you and miss you and I can't wait until you get home" he was 2.5 years old. He said it but while playing haha

I'd say get him involved in a fun game to distract him from his mom getting ready and after she's gone.

NYCsitter said...

God, I know what the OP is talking about. I used to sit for this family on Staurday nights-the boy was 4 and he was such a spoiled only child. Every time the parents had to leave, he would put up such a show! Crying and yelling as loud as he could! Do you know how many times I ask the parents to please just leave since he would stop crying and yelling as soon as they would get into the elevator? Kids are like that: they know they have the power to keep the parents with them as long as they cry and yell but then, as soon as the parents leave, they would "magically" stop because they know there is nothing more they can do! They are not stupid! Why parents don't get that? WHY?

NannyTastic said...

As far as I have read no one addressed the autism issue. Children with this diagnosis are developmentally behind. Does he understand object permanence? Like many others responding, I too believe in quick good-byes.

Caring Mom All Day said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lyn said...

While I agree that a short and simple goodbye is always best, I take issue with CM's comparison of the reaction of an Autistic child to that of an infant. I speak from personal experience as my 23 year old brother is autistic and still has issues with my dad leaving to go to the grocery store, a doctor appointment, wherever.

Autism is a VERY wide spectrum and no child who suffers from any variety of it should be compared to their "healthy" counterparts.

The fact is, he is NOT an 8 month old healthy infant, he is a seven year old autistic boy. His brain is wired differently than most others. He does not handle change and stress and general emotion the same way we are able to. It's not that he is "THAT far behind" it's that his brain is completely different and develops differently than another childs would.

I agree OP, you should try and sit the mom down and explain the benefits of a short and sweet goodbye. Talk up for days before how much fun he is going to have with *nannies name*, all the fun things they are going to do, and most importantly she(mom) must instill object permanence in his mind by saying things like "Mommy has to leave, but I ALWAYS comes back to you", "When I come back I want to see all the crafts you did", "Will you save me a brownie from this weekend so I can eat it when I come home?" And then the reverse of the statements once mb does come home "Mommy is back! See how she always comes back home to you?!", etc. Sayings like that from both you and your mb paired with a short and sweet goodbye WILL help the situation in a huge way. But it will take a couple of her trips and both of you "sticking to the script" (something that aides autistic children in routines) to see a result. He has to link the words you are saying with truth "she DOES always come back to me".

Good luck OP! Your family is lucky to have you. You should wonderful!

NannyTastic said...

My experiences with autism are that a seven year old will NOT act like an eight month old. Children with this diagnosis are often advanced in one area (math or science), but have problems with other areas (socially or cognitively). Also, the child is not to blame here. Often, children with this diagnosis, are not capable of lying, manipulating, or deceiving. Even if they have these capabilities, they don't do it well. For instance they may smile or look away while trying to lie. Like this girl, Lyn, said, their brains are different and there is a very wide spectrum.

Aletheia said...

CM, you brought it up on this thread, once again. The reason people think you haven't apologized is that you "apologize" and then go on attacking. PLEASE stop posting about this! It's disrespectful to the OPs and especially to MPP who JUST made new rules. We don't have to like each other, but we DO have to quit bringing it up.

OP, you've received good advice, and since I don't have experience with children older than 3 who are on the spectrum, I don't really have anything to add. I wish you luck and I really hope your MB will see your point and establish healthier routines!

ooookay said...

Nannytastic/that girl lyn

Are you saying your twenty-three year old autistic brother hasn't mastered object permanence? Really?

nuts said...

There are so many people in childcare with misconceptions of Autism. It baffles me that so many people still have no idea what it is.

It takes a special person to be a caregiver to a special needs child, and a special kind of person to be their parent as well.

just sayin said...

Austism has been overly diagnosed. 10% of those with "autism" have recently lost the diagnosis.

curious said...

It is nuts that people working in child care don't know the difference between seperaation anxiety and object permanence.

another nanny said...

Not sure, but maybe he would benefit from a picture schedule which includes Mom's departure? She can review the day's schedule with him in the morning, which will clue him in to her leaving, but as one of many of the day's activities. That way he knows it's coming, but he can also see that a familiar activity is going to follow.
Unfortunately, I don't know if any tactics will be helpful for the child if the mom continues to be so dramatic.

EastBay Nanny said...

many people in childcare don't know definitions for either. very true and very problematic.

Basic Early Childhood Education Vocabulary 101 said...

That's what separates a nanny from a babysitter. If you don't know what object permanence means, you're just another glorified babysitter in my eyes.