Separation anxiety is anxiety provoked in a young child by separation or the threat of separation from their primary caregiver. Whether it starts early or late, whether it’s mild or severe, separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s development and because we know it can be a stressful journey, we’ve put together a few tips to help families cope.
We recommend starting small! Practice in your home environment with a friend/babysitter by leaving the room for a short amount of time before returning. If your child cries, have your friend comfort them and let them know you will be back shortly; you can also call out to let them know you are still there and will just be a few minutes. As your child becomes accustomed to your small absences, you can increase the time you are away. Eventually your child will learn that they are still safe even when you are not present and that you will always reappear.
If you will be leaving your children with a childcare provider for long periods of time make sure that you have prepared them and yourself for this change, especially if this is the first time you will be doing so. You may have practiced short absences with your child and readied them as much as possible for this next step, but it’s not uncommon for parents to forget that they may also feel anxious or even guilty about leaving their child for the day. Make sure to talk to your child’s caregiver about your feelings and let them know you might call to check in with them or would like to receive updates throughout the day. Find a way for you to stay connected during your absence so you can be more at ease and able to concentrate when you’re out.
Be sure to say goodbye before you go. You may do this before your caregiver arrives, you may do it right before you head out the door, every family is different and you will have to find what works best for you, as long as you take the time to acknowledge your absence with your child so they are not caught off guard when you are suddenly not there. Some children react badly when they know you’re leaving, but regardless of how upset the child is, sneaking out only adds to anxiety, increases the fear of abandonment, and breaks down the child’s sense of trust.
If your child is still having difficulties with your absence, consider leaving behind a transitional object. This could be a blanket, a teddy, or a personal item such as Mommy’s bracelet, Daddy’s watch, etc. – something of comfort to help a child feel more secure and remember that you will be back soon.
Remember, overcoming separation anxiety is a gradual process that takes a different amount of time for each child. But you will all get through it and pretty soon the time they spend with their caregiver will be a positive and exciting part of your child’s routine that everyone looks forward to.