Separation anxiety in a three year old

If I think about separation anxiety, what springs to mind is a baby of around 9 months old who has suddenly decided he only wants to be cuddled by Mummy. Or, perhaps a toddler of around 18 months who clings to your legs whilst you are trying to prepare her dinner, begging for a carry. 

In all honesty I thought those days were behind us. The Mouse hasn’t particularly been a clingy child – perhaps a little shy around new faces, but far from being a Mummy’s girl – and even the Daddy’s girl phase seems to have diluted to a more healthy relationship. She’s typically been the one running off into the distance

But recently something’s changed.

We noticed a change at bedtime – her normal bath, book, bed, out for the count seemed to become more of a battle. Another book, another book. I need the light on. No one’s here to look after me. I don’t want to be on my own.

We have had tears, sobs and desperate please for us not to leave her alone at bedtime. And worst still, the night wakings have returned. Some nights the tears have gone on for hours, with her begging for one of us to stay with her. It’s been a tired mess of tough love and surrenders, bed sharing and sitting on the floor in the cold dark waiting for her to drop off, and tip toeing back to our own bed.

Of course, all is forgiven in the light of day, but even then she has shown signs of feeling stressed about us leaving her. Wanting me to sit right beside her while she watches Peppa Pig (and I’m trying to sneak off to get something done), going berserk because she can’t get out of the car at the petrol station even though I’m paying at pump right beside her.

adult, affection, baby

I’ve hit google, obvs, and it seems we are going through a relapse stage of separation anxiety. I’ve been thinking back to when this started and the events in her life at that time – going back to the end of November, when she was poorly with one of the many viruses doing the rounds, her mornings at nursery increased from 2 to 3 and, I started my temporary Christmas job, leaving her with her much loved Nanny and Grandad two days a week.

Person Holding White Ipad

What’s strange, is that none of these events sparked an obvious distress in her – there were no tears or protests about going to nursery, or about her days with her grandparents. But, perhaps subconsciously, the absence of her most stable figure in her little world, did in fact cause her more anxiety than we realised.

Of course, people have to go to work, and if I had made the decision to permanently return to my career outside of the home, then we’d just have to ride this wave and guide her through it. As it so happens, I’m back to our ‘normal’ now – here to do the nursery pick ups and make her favourite lunches. Maybe that is irrelevant, and this might have happened anyway. Perhaps all three year olds hit a stage of ‘testing the waters’ and ‘pushing boundaries’, working out how to have the whole family wrapped around their finger?

Happy Coffee

For now, there are no answers. Just deep breaths, patience, reassurance, and coffee.


Has anyone else experienced this in their three year old out of the blue? Please tell me it didn’t last long…

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