My partner has a 5yo who was 2 when we got together. In this time he has cried uncontrollably every single time he is dropped off or picked up from our house. These tears usually subside if he is distracted by something but then return at bedtime.

We have him every other weekend and about 50/50 during school holidays. When he was younger I chalked it up to his age and my being new on the scene but the behaviour continues. I've asked him why. If he is worried about something (he is generally on the anxious side) but he says it's because he wants mum and he's tired. I've explained he can miss his mum but know he's going to see her in a couple of days but it doesn't seem to make too much difference.

I'm looking for any advice or insight on helping him with the transition as the problem seems persistent and it's not very nice for anyone.


2 Answers 2


I'd hope by now that this behaviour no longer occurs but I must say I was in a very similar situation to you.

When I first got with my girlfriend her son was 21/2 years old and was severely missing being with his Father. He would cry for his Father almost every time he was dropped off. This would also happen if he was upset about anything. Something as simple as washing his hair (which he despised at the time) would set him off crying shouting "I want my daddy".

It was a very stressful time for us all. His Mother couldn't understand why her Son never got upset when she dropped him off at his Father's house. It was always when he got dropped back off at home that he would cry.

My advice based on my experience would be to ensure you set up a schedule and keep to it. Regular contact is good. As I said earlier my step-son would see his Father every night for at least two hours and have him for the weekend every other weekend. Saying you will see your Daddy tomorrow did nothing for us apart from make him cry more. It was the repetition and ensuring we didn't break the schedule that did it for us.

It took around six months using this schedule to ease the crying whilst being dropped off. It was more a year for it to fully stop. We would still get cries for his Father when he was generally upset and this took around another year to stop completely. Five years later with the same schedule still in place my step-son is happier than ever.

The key was ensuring the schedule didn't break. In doing this my step-son became more and more confident that he would be seeing his Father and it was something to look forward to. It took a lot of time and a lot of patience but we did get there in the end and after looking back all I can say is we couldn't have done anything else but keep to this schedule of his Father picking him up after nursery and being with him every other weekend.

What you could do is try and make for fun times when your step-son comes back. Board games, jigsaws or play with their toys with them. Something that makes them feel loved. This may ease the transition.

I would also like to add that I think age plays a big factor. As they get older they start to understand more.

Please be patient. It is upsetting and it is hard to understand. One thing I found quite difficult was not to get mad. This was a big learning curve for me as I was new to the scene and I blamed myself for it. I started venting. Looking back this is wrong and I shouldn't have got mad. It's not the child's fault that this is the situation they are in.

  • 1
    Patience and caring really do solve so many problems. We are all want it now -- not just our children. +1 for answering this older question with real experience and insight.
    – WRX
    Apr 13, 2017 at 16:36

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This answer merely presents a hypothesis, one that is difficult enough to prove when dealing with a child regularly and one that definitely cannot be proved given the amount of information provided here.

I see a possible answer in the attachment theory here, in particular in the child's attachment to its mother which is forming during the child's first year. The theory names several attachment patterns with the secure attachment being the ideal one - a secure child has confidence in its mother. So while this child also suffers from separation anxiety, it has no doubts that its mother will return.

What you describe could be a sign of anxious-ambivalent attachment however. Here the child didn't get a consistent response when it needed its mother's help, so its stress level when separated from the mother is very high - it doesn't know whether the mother will come back. In this case, your step son's reaction really isn't about anything that you do. Daycare is a similar situation, maybe you can learn whether the same behavioral pattern shows up there as well.

While for children this plays out entirely in the subconsciousness, this condition persists into the adult age. From such adults I know what it feels like: no matter what happens, you feel like you aren't worth being loved. So people doing good to you cannot be interpreted as an act of love, you rather expect them to act out of hidden self-interest. Consequently, you cannot possibly rely on other people, everybody is a potential threat.

Some people are spending years fighting their subconsciousness in order to improve this attitude. So unfortunately I can offer you very little advise should this hypothesis turn out correct. Then again, this child is closer to the source of his issues so fixing them might be easier - you will definitely need professional advise however. Also, I'm fairly certain that nothing will work without the child's mother being cooperative. I can imagine convincing her that her child needs help being pretty impossible.

But I hope that you will at least manage to understand what this child has to put up with, and why he is resistant when you try to comfort him. As he grows older he should develop better ways of coping, and maybe you can find a way to assist him here.

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