Sage advice from those who have been through it can help lessen the blow of letting go.
It’s a terrible feeling, seeing your little ones’ faces crumple when you have to leave them with a caregiver, especially when they are small. No one ever likes to cause his or her child distress, period.
For new parents of a first child, this can be particularly difficult because it’s hard for us to tell if this is normal. And let’s face it; we don’t want to leave our child either. To make matters worse, we feel guilty leaving someone else in charge of a tearful child.
Thankfully, separation anxiety is a natural phase and there are lots of things we can do it ease the discomfort of it.
1. One thing pediatricians and psychologists recommend is keeping cool yourself. Maintain a positive attitude and show them with your body language and voice that there is nothing to worry about. Kids take their cues from their parents, and if you are distressed, that will make it worse.
2. Keep it short, but always say goodbye. It seems like a pain-free idea to slip out when they don’t notice, but that can really make things escalate for them. The regular routine of saying goodbye and coming back will show them that you are indeed, just running an errand or going to work and you will return. However, don’t string the goodbye out longer than necessary. It can make the transition harder for them, and for their caregiver.
3. You can go further and form a ritual with your child’s caregiver, like reading or waving from the window. They can have an activity to jump into right when you leave and for most kids, they stop crying after a few minutes. Another great idea is to have a favorite stuffy nearby. It’s comforting and familiar for them.
4. Some parents have had success making a photo book with the smiling, familiar faces of parents, grandparents, and siblings that their little one can look at when he or she feels lonely. Babysitters also have a cool trick with older kids: if children are missing a parent throughout the day, they can dictate a letter or make some art for them that they can present upon the parent’s return. This helps to soften the sharp edges of missing someone and they feel productive too.
5. Be patient with yourself as you and your child become accustomed to periods of separation; it takes time and it’s normal for feelings of guilt and anxiety to come up for you. If your child is old enough to understand, you can talk to him or her about it and reinforce that you also hate to be away, but you have important things to do, and by doing them, you make it possible to spend time doing some fun things together, too.
6. Make quality time really count. In this busy world, we are so distracted and overworked that it can be very hard to power down and focus on what is in front of you. One of the ways you can help your children feel secure is by giving them your full attention when together. Make time to bond, do something messy or silly, read, and cuddle so that they know you are present. This will really aid in the long run.
7. If you don’t see progress in the separation anxiety over several weeks, consider all factors: is the caregiver a good fit for your child’s temperament? Is the day care set up to help your child cope? Is your schedule so full that you don’t have quality time with your child? Be willing to ask some hard questions about your set-up, and explore ways to change it up. Because while separation anxiety is a normal part of development, it’s also not good for any small child to go hours a day in distress, or for weeks at a time. For most kids, there are tears for the first 10 minutes and then they recover and go back to playing. If this isn’t the case, look for ways to make the situation more workable for everyone.
Parenting in the modern age is in some ways easier and some ways much more challenging. We have so much to manage, and most of us are working double-time to keep all the balls in the air. This often leads to a lot of distress for us and that can affect our kids. We need to remember to take a deep breath with the knowledge that there will be good days and bad days. Separation anxiety is the first step toward independence and while it is painful, it will also pass. Kindness toward our kids and ourselves is the best thing we can do to get through the difficult patches, and one day, you will actually miss the times they were so attached to you that they didn’t want to let you go.