School is starting and many kids are exploring new adventures, it’s a good time to talk about separation anxiety. What is it? Everyone experiences a nervousness when they start something new. A little anxiety is normal. But sometimes children experience a greater anxiety about a new adventure. There are many ways we can help children overcome their fears about doing something they haven’t done before.
Before you separate from your child for the first time, make sure they are well rested and have had something to eat. Everyone has a harder time dealing with life when they are hungry, thirsty, or too tired.
Talk about what’s going to happen for a few weeks before it happens. You are going to school. I am going to go to work. After I am done working I will pick you up from school. Mommy will be back. Mommy loves you.
Practice separation. Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods at first and then build your way up to a full day.
Have a ritual for saying goodbye. Whether it’s a kiss or hug or whatever, do it the same way every time. Tell them you are leaving and that you are coming back. Do NOT stall, or hang around not wanting to leave. This makes it much harder for your child.
Don’t give in. Make sure your child knows they will be fine, and leave. This is the hardest thing for parents to do, but if you give in and come back, it will make your child have a harder time adjusting because they will think if they are unhappy, you will come back every time. Also, children feed off of parent’s emotions, so remember if you are nervous, they can feel it and will be nervous too.
Remember that you have a job to do and you are leaving your child in the best care you can find for them. You are allowed to work and provide for your family without guilt. Leave that guilt at the curb. You are allowed to go to dinner with your husband or go to the spa as well. It’s okay to take care of yourself. It will make you a better parent in the long run. Don’t feel guilty about it. You are human too!
Make sure to tell the truth. Never sneak out when your child is playing. It will break the trust they have with you. Tell them what you are doing and then do it.
If you are providing childcare for a child who is having a tough time separating, there are several things you can do to help them transition better.
I have a policy of having two interviews with each family before the child starts care here. One at their house and one at mine. If parents are not interested in doing that, I’m not interested in keeping their children. It gives me, the parents, and the child another opportunity to get to know each other. Going to their home helps the child feel secure when they see me at their home where they know it’s safe. If Mom and Dad let Ms. Christina come over and play here, she must be safe for me. In addition, while at the child’s home, I try to meet their pets, and play with their favorite toy with them. Then if they are upset at drop off I can say, how is your dog dizzy, or where is your elephant that you keep on your bed? It really helps the child and nervous parents cope.
Another thing you can do is let the child bring a familiar comfort item from home. A blankie, stuffed animal, or other item they use at home with which to comfort themselves will help make them feel secure at your home as well.
Having a picture of mom and dad at your house is helpful as well. They can look at them when they miss them and know they are coming back.
Make sure to give the child extra attention as they transition. They may need some extra hugs to comfort them. In contrast, make sure not to pick them up or touch them if they don’t want you to. They will tell you when they are ready for your comfort.
Be patient and remember how scary it is to leave the comfort of home and go to a strange place without the people you love. If you give it time, they will love your home and you as well. Some kids take longer than others to trust. Also, different ages of children are in different stages of separation anxiety as well. Don’t forget a child who is 10 months to about 2 will be much more leery than a younger infant or an older child. It’s a natural part of their development, so make adjustments for that as well.
Getting to know someone new is hard for everyone at first. I even feel nervous when getting to know a new child as well. Give it time and the friendship always grows. Usually faster than you think it will!