If you have children that are of daycare ready or preschool age then, you’ve probably had the unfortunate opportunity to experience separation anxiety firsthand. It’s something that all parents and children will have to face at one point or another, and with each child it doesn’t get any easier for the parent.
Even though there is nothing you can do to make leaving your child less painful for you, there are some ways to make it less painful for your child. One thing that you can do is, gradually start leaving your child with a grandparent or sitter, maybe for only an hour or so at first, gradually building up to longer periods of time. If your child will be staying with someone new, invite that person over to your home first for a “play date”, so that your child can start getting used to them in a familiar environment, with you at the ready in case there is a problem. Before taking your child to his first day of preschool or daycare, it might help if you schedule a few visits that you can the child can both attend, to gave him/her time to adjust to the new situation first, so that he won’t have to deal with being away from you and a new environment with strangers all at the same time.
In most cases, children will start to suffer from separation anxiety at around eight months of age, so it is not a good idea to make changes at this time if there is any way to avoid them. By the time your child has reached one year of age, separation anxiety will start to ease up somewhat, and it will be easier for your child to adjust to new people and situations. When you have to leave your child with someone else, it will be much easier if you do it when he has just had his nap and a full meal. A hungry, tired child is likely to be cranky already, and you leaving will only make a bad situation much, much worse.
If you tell your child that you will return at a certain time, make every effort to do so. By doing this, your child will soon start to learn that if you say you are coming back for him that you always will. He will learn that he just ahs to be away from you for a short time, and then you will return for him. If you ever one time have to come late, or have to send someone else in your place, it will only make the child’s separation anxiety worse, so try to avoid it if you can.
It will be hard to leave your child at first, especially if she is hanging onto your leg and begging you to stay. But, in most cases, once you are gone, the child usually will calm down in a short time, and find something else to interest herself with. If it makes your day go better, call and check in with the caregiver later in the day, just to make sure that everything is okay, and that the child still isn’t upset. Then you can go about your daily business without worrying about your child being miserable without you.
Don’t let your child know that you are nervous about leaving her too, kiss her, hug her, tell her you love her, have a great day, and that you will be back later to get her. Make sure she understands that you promise that you will be back, and try to tell her what time you will be there. To make it easier for her to understand, tell her that mommy will be back to get you after naptime, or after you play outside. Don’t drag things out any longer than necessary, no matter how hard it is for you not to hang around. Once you leave, don’t come back in later to make sure everything is okay, just go. It may make it easier for you to call and check on your child, or to instruct your caregiver that if she cries for more than fifteen minutes, to please call you. The only way you and your child will get over separation anxiety is by dealing with it, no matter how painful it may be.
In the event you find yourself caring for a child who is suffering from separation anxiety, try to distract him with fun activities, such as songs, games, toys, or outside play. It may take some time and effort on your part, but you will eventually have the child concentrating on playing with you, instead of on his missing parents. Don’t talk about the parents while they are gone, as this will only bring back the fact that they are gone.
Separation anxiety is hard for the children, parents, and caregivers involved. It takes time and practice to get easier, but know that over time, it will get easier for all parties involved.
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