5 Ways to Make Goodbyes Easier and Manage Separation Anxiety
It’s Monday morning. You’re late for work. You pull into the sitter’s driveway and the teary tantrums begin. “NO, MOMMY! DON’T LEAVE ME!” Your child is pleading in the backseat.
Separation Anxiety is gut-wrenching for the parent as well as for the child. Around the first birthday, many children develop separation anxiety. Children who 3 months ago could easily stay with a sitter while you go to work or go out for the evening suddenly develop a fear of being separated from their parents. While separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood, it can be easier for both children and parents if you’re armed with some basic skills to make those goodbyes easier.
1. Timing is everything. Leaving your child when he is tired or hungry is likely to trigger a more extreme episode of separation anxiety. Try to time your departures after naps and mealtimes. Try to make sure your child had something for breakfast if you’re dropping him off at the sitter before work, for example. Also, try not to start daycare or change daycare providers around the 1 year mark when separation anxiety is likely to first appear.
2. Practice Makes Perfect.
Recipe for disaster: Drop your child off for the first time at a new sitter’s house and leave for the next 8 hours while you go to work.
Recipe for success: Practice being apart from each other. Take your child to the new sitter’s house for a visit with you a few times before the schedule begins. Introduce the new sitter to your child when you can both spend time together at the sitters. Practice leaving your child with a new sitter for shorter periods of time at first so he can get used to being away from you.
3. Be calm. When it’s time to say goodbye, say it in a loving and pleasant way, but be firm. Stay calm. If you’re a sobbing mess, then your child will pick up on your anxiety about leaving him, making it worse in the long run for both of you. Reassure your child when you will be back and then leave. Don’t come back multiple times, despite the crying and pleading. Coming back will only make it worse.
Say: “I love you. I will see you after lunch.”
Don’t say: “We’re going to make it through. I know it’s terrible being apart. I wouldn’t leave you ever, but Daddy makes me go to work to earn extra money.”
4. Follow through. Make sure that you return when you promised. This will give your child the much needed sense of security. Your child will be better able to separate from you if he is confident that you will return when you said you would. How can your child be confident that you will return? Show him. Be back when you promise every time.
5. Leave a Reminder. Give your child a picture of his family to take with him to the sitter’s house. This way if your child is feeling alone he can take a quick look at his picture of you and remind himself that you will be back. The picture is a great way to help your child feel connected to you when you are apart.
Remember, in most cases separation anxiety is only temporary. It’s a phase that most children go through and will get over in time. If your child’s separation anxiety is more intense or lasts into preschool or elementary years or beyond, then it may be time to seek help from a trained professional.
If your child:
• Is convinced that something bad will happen to you when you are separated
• Has nightmares about separation
• Is afraid of sleeping alone
• Has panic symptoms (nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath) at the thought of leaving you
• Has an excessive fear of being kidnapped or lost…
Then it may be best that you seek professional help. Child Counselors at Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center are trained in helping children and their parents overcome separation anxiety disorder. Child Counseling can help you and your child develop coping skills to work through his fears and help you be supportive in an appropriate way. Contact us today to learn more.