“Stay” with New Baby on Way
We have noticed our two year old has been saying “stay” a lot to both of us when it is time to part ways (e.g., at dropoff, when we’re putting him to bed). We think it is probably related to changes or anticipated changes related to baby’s arrival. Do you have any advice on how we can support him through this and more broadly as the baby arrives?
You’re spot on that it’s likely the sense that new baby is coming and he is probably really trying to figure that out. It’s normal for children to want more independence sometimes and more connection others and I would recommend being authentic and following his cues. You can also coach him to understand his emotions and know that it is normal to want closeness. You can also help him build skills for coping with separation.
When you can stay, do. If he asks you to stay and you have a little ability to do so you can ask him, how long he would like you to stay, maybe it’s 2 minutes, one book, one song. Once that plan is made at the end you can stick with it. You’re communicating we have flexibility to listen to you when we can but it’s not endless. Let’s make a plan to meet your need for a little more time and still stick with my plan to separate. Follow your needs with that boundary if it’s night time and he says he wants you to stay until he falls asleep you could say “Sure” or “That won’t work, I have a lot to do; maybe 2 minutes or one more song, which would work for you?” Be authentic to your feelings and needs as well as his.
Also a note here that it is helpful to be specific about where you are going when you separate, ie I’m going to wash some dishes or I’m going to my office, remember my big spinny chair. I told a child one time, I was going downstairs and he said, “Where downstairs?” I said “To the kitchen sink,” and he turned over and went to sleep. A reassuring, “I’m always near, even when I’m not right here.” can go a long way. We try to talk specifically about when we will be back together. “I’m going to the office, I’ll be back when you wake up from your nap.”
Coach him to understand, when you have time to bring up the conversation about feeling anxious, needing closeness, needing connection. Help him to understand it’s normal and connect around your feelings too. It is ok to say, “Some days I just want to stay home and play with you all day.” The more you can tune into the times when he does feel connected the better he’s going to be at identifying it. Notice when it works, “I really enjoyed laughing and playing with you in the bath, we were both smiling. Did that help you feel connected? I really like those times together.”
Lastly, build skills for coping with separation. Children need our help to identify things that calm them, ways to connect, and things they can do when they are feeling disconnected. Observe and try diverse methods for building that connection. I love you rituals that other caregivers can do such as songs or fingerplays. Comfort objects like a lovey or picture of the family. Actions like reviewing the schedule or calendar can help. Reading or retelling a story of something that brings your son joy. Writing notes is something that has a lot of power at this age. Notes of love in his lunch box. He can write you notes in the classroom. You could stick a note in a special place after he falls asleep or you guys could write together a note of the day before he falls asleep. The goal is that he has 3-5 strategies for managing separation. He has his thumb, hugs from teachers/grandparents, what else can we build for him to use now and when baby arrives.
It’s fun stuff! He’s so competent and I know he’s going be a great big brother! If you haven’t read it I highly recommend Siblings without Rivalry.
Sorry for the delayed reply (life…) but thanks so much for your helpful advice! We have been trying to stay with him when we do have time. That has been working really well when saying goodnight at bedtime. We’ve been less successful at drop-off, but we can try some different techniques that you mention — such as asking him how long he’d like us to stay, and writing notes. I got a copy of Siblings without Rivalry on my to read list.