Q: Our second child spent the first three months of her life in hospital. During this time, our three-year-old daughter stayed with family. We are all back home together, but now my elder daughter, who used to be mild-mannered, has plenty of tantrums. She never wants to interact with other children and clings to us, afraid we're going to leave her. Are these signs of anxiety? What can we do to help?
A: This must have been a difficult time for you and your family and you did what you had to do, so no guilt, OK?
Your three-year-old daughter's reaction does indicate she is experiencing some separation anxiety. However, this is pretty normal, given the circumstances, and should ease with time.
The best thing you can do is to give her lots of love and attention, and reassure her you will always be there for her. Try creating a story about the difficult time you all experience. Be sure you include her feelings in the story: "When your sister was born, she was very sick. This was very hard for you because you did not get to see her and you had to go and stay with Grandma and Grandpa. We missed you like crazy!? Involve her in her sister's care and emphasize how important she is to her sister.
Set up short separations and give her something of yours to "take care of" while you are away. Try not to overreact to the tantrums; help her through them, but stay firm and have age-appropriate expectations.
A wonderful storybook for children experiencing separation anxiety is The Invisible String by Patrice Karst.