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My grandson is the light of my life, but when I was required to play mommy for a while, I often found myself out maneuvered by a two year old. One of the constant battles was his dislike of saying goodbye to those who were leaving the house, whether it happened to be his father, his grandfather, his great-grandparents, or a randomly selected new friend who had come by for a visit. Psychologists call this clinging behavior “separation anxiety,” and it can hit at almost any age from one to four years.
My first experiences with separation anxiety came from keeping the nursery at my church. I was always startled when a child who had always loved being with me suddenly began to latch on to parents, refusing to let them leave in any peaceful fashion. Instead, I would have to manually separate the two and then spend the next ten minutes trying to distract and redirect the distraught toddler toward other adventures. Sometimes I was successful; at other times, I spent the entire hour coping with a fussy, inconsolable little one until my nerves were more frayed than the bottom of a teenager’s old jeans.
From this experience, I had developed my own special box of tricks. I began by walking the floor and calling attention to all of the pictures on the walls. I followed this by reading a book while bouncing the child on my knee or rocking. If the screams could still be heard through the insulated walls of my classroom, I tried singing the silliest songs I knew in an overly loud voice. Sometimes I think this worked because the child realized that if he or she stopped crying, I just might stop singing. If these actions failed to convince the child to cease and desist, I plopped into the floor with the sweet darling in tow and systematically pulled the strings and punched the buttons on every battery operated sound-making toy in the vicinity. By this time, one of us was so tired that he or she achieved the victory. I considered myself the winner if my little bundle of joy either found an activity that provided amusement or had fallen into an exhausted slumber. I considered my charge the victor if I had to take him or her to the Sunday School class and with great love and ceremony hand the precious cargo back to the wide-eyed parents.
It wasn’t until desperation and good luck became the mother to invention that I arrived at a solution for this state of affairs that might also prove helpful to other harried parents who are dealing with this same issue. One day when my grandson began the usual whining routine as his dad left for work, I grabbed his favorite chair, dragged it to the window, and plopped him into it. “Wave to Daddy,” I insisted. He grinned and waved enthusiastically. “Now, let’s throw kisses,” I challenged. Still grinning, he blew kisses into the air until his father was out of sight. Then, he hopped from the chair and went back to his play. I was stunned at how easy it was, but I counted it as just a lucky moment.
Later that day, we received a visit from a close relative, and my grandson found her wonderfully entertaining. I was already mentally preparing for the storm that her departure would cause even before she headed for the door. In an attempt to forestall the tears, I grabbed the chair and rushed for the window. “The waving chair,” I yelled. “Get on the waving chair.” Miracle of miracles, it worked again. The waving chair became an institution in our house until my grandson outgrew his propensity to drown every departing visitor in tears. I can honestly say that every parent dealing with separation anxiety needs to at least give the “waving chair” some serious consideration.