Soothing Separation Anxiety



Feeling nervous when it’s time to stay with a caregiver is normal for your child. Separation can be difficult for both of you. Children can begin to feel comfortable, and separation anxiety will improve with these strategies. 

Prepare

    Before it’s time to leave your child, discuss what will happen. Let him know you will leave him with a babysitter, 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 has 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, you will help your child develop a relationship with the caregiver and adjust to being away from you. 

Be consistent 

    Do your best to use the same caregiver each time you leave so your child feels more comfortable. Your child will spend a lot of time with the babysitter, especially if both parents work full time outside the home, and feeling safe and comfortable with the sitter is important for children. 

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 you have 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 do leave.

Leave quickly 

    When it is time to go, even if it is as hard for you as it is for your child, leave without fanfare. Say good-bye, give one last kiss or hug, remind your little one 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, he will begin to feel that way too. 

Develop a good-bye ritual

    Developing a special good-bye with your child creates consistency and it is also fun. A good-bye ritual is when you and your child say good-bye 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 3 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. 

Good-bye Rituals

    Creating a good-bye ritual with your children can help give them a sense of comfort because they know what to expect. They will feel safe in their surroundings and have confidence their parent will return, as always. Here are some ideas to start your own good-bye 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. 
  • Create a special wave or handshake. 
  • Sing a good-bye song.
  • Give her kisses to keep in her pocket for later and ask for some for your pocket.


Sarah Lyons is a mother of six children, including 2-year-old triplets. She will try some of these tips as her triplets head off to Mother’s Day Out this year.

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