Easing Separation Anxiety

Most, if not all of us have experienced a time when our children had a difficult experience saying good bye as we were leaving. But there are a few tips that can help with the issue of separation anxiety. It is never easy for a child (and sometimes a parent) to say goodbye. Children, usually under the age of three, often have a difficult time watching a parent leave. Typically our reactions to these situations help the child decide the best way to react themselves.

Before you get to your destination, let the child know that you will be leaving and that you will be coming back. They do not have a very good idea of time frames, so telling them in 2 or 3 hours is actually not very helpful. You could possibly say something like, “You will have lunch at the daycare, but we will have dinner together.” The meals framework might make more sense to your little one than actual times.

I have heard some parents give the advice to sneak out, but this is never a good idea. It breaks the bonds of trust a child is forming with you and other adults. It is best to give your child a hug or kiss, wave goodbye and then leave. Let them know you will be back and you can even tell them how much fun they will have. For example, through my experience with sitters, I have found that having a special project or game ready for the child and sitter to begin just as I am leaving eases the separation anxiety my children may feel.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to never stretch out the goodbyes. This makes separation more difficult as the child may sense the sadness you are also experiences, which might make them feel sadder or even scared. Look confident and happy for them and let them know you love them and will be back, then GO.

It is very normal and natural for a child to cry and reach out to you and even cling, but as soon as you are gone, the child is usually calmed down and ready to adjust to a new setting within minutes. This is what I have been told by nearly every sitter and teacher I have dealt with. They say that the child cries for a minute or so, and then begins to have a good time with a new friend or activity.

Do not expect separation anxiety to go away immediately. This could take weeks so be patient! Adjusting to a new school, new surroundings, new caregivers, and new friends is kind of scary for some. This is completely normal, but over time, the child should adjust. When your child sees the confidence and trust you have for the other caregivers in charge of your little one, they too will also feel safe and comfortable.

Be sure to give yourself some time to adjust. I recall sitting in my car crying the first couple of times I left my daughter at a preschool. It tore me up to see her missing me and reaching out to me. I felt guilty and questioned my motherly worth for a moment. But allowing your child to be around their peers is such a valuable lesson. It offers so much personal growth and enjoyment for the child. My daughter Scarlett was so shy and quiet before preschool. Now we see her with such leadership skills. The kids want to do what she is doing! She especially loves this because at home she is the “little sister” but at school, she is an equal, if not someone to be looked up to. She really loves going to school now.

Remember: patience is key. Good luck everyone!

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