Soothing Separation Anxiety
By Sarah Lyons
It is normal for your child to feel nervous when it’s time to stay with a caregiver. Separation can be difficult for both the child and the parent, but children can begin to feel comfortable and separation anxiety will improve with these strategies.
Prepare. Before it’s time to leave the child, discuss what will happen. Let him know you will leave him with a babysitter, tell him what you will be doing while you are gone, and assure him you will be back. If possible, plan something fun the child and the caregiver can do together. If a child knows what to expect, he will have the opportunity to ask questions and ease some of the apprehension he may feel.
Practice. Young children, especially infants, benefit from easing into a new routine. Try leaving the child for short periods of time before going back to work full time. By slowly increasing the length of time, the child will be able to develop a relationship with his or her caregiver and adjust to being away from the parent.
Be consistent. Do your best to use the same caregiver each time you leave so that the child feels more comfortable. Your child will spend a lot of time with the babysitter, especially if the parents work full time outside the home, and it is important that the child feels safe and comfortable with the caregiver.
Choose the best time. A child who is sick, hungry, or tired is more likely to struggle with separation anxiety. Make sure she is fed and rested before it is time for you to leave.
Keep it familiar. If possible, have the caregiver come to your home where your child feels most comfortable. If that is not possible, have the child bring something from home that makes him feel comfortable such as a special stuffed animal or blanket, a photo of the family, or a favorite toy. Another idea is to have the caregiver bring a special toy along with her that the child will recognize and associate with her each time, helping to create consistency and comfort for the child.
Set a time limit. When it is time to leave, give your child a time you will return. Toddlers do not understand the concept of time, but you can let them know they can expect you after a specific activity. Explain that you will be home after lunch, when naptime is done, or when the movie is over (let the caregiver know when to start the movie). This will help the child understand what time you will be home and relax when you leave.
Leave quickly. When it is time to go, even if it is as hard for you as it is for the child, leave without fanfare. Say goodbye, give one last kiss or hug, remind them you will be back soon, and leave. Quickly! Of all the tips, this is probably the simplest and the most important. Your child is looking to you for how to react to the situation and if you are calm, happy, and confident, they will begin to feel that way, too.
Develop a goodbye ritual. Developing a special goodbye with your child creates consistency, and it is also fun. A goodbye ritual is when you and your child say goodbye the exact same way each day. This routine can make the child feel comfortable when you leave and confident you will return.
Separation anxiety is age appropriate for children from infancy to around three years old. These coping strategies can help both you and your child feel at ease when it is time to leave him with a caregiver. In time, children do outgrow their anxiety over separation. Most parents will tell you that one day, they are surprised to find their child happily walks into school without shedding a tear, while they themselves still tear up a little. ■
Creating a goodbye ritual with your child can help give him a sense of comfort because he knows what to expect. He will feel safe in his surroundings and have confidence his parents will return, as always. Here are some ideas to start your own goodbye ritual.
- Read a book together then leave
- Draw a picture together then leave the picture with the child
- Have the child wave at the window
- Give one last kiss and one last hug
- Sing a goodbye song
- Give her kisses to keep in her pocket for later and ask for some for your pocket