7 Ways to Help Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety

Doesn’t it hurt your heart when you have to leave, but your child doesn’t want to let go? A new and unfamiliar caregiver comes into the picture, and suddenly your little one is scared, clingy, and uncooperative. If a routine separation with your child incites protests and tears, you’ll need to find strategies that make sad goodbyes easier.

Many kids experience separation anxiety in early childhood, between the ages of 8 months and 2 ½ years old. Some children suffer all the way from babyhood into elementary school. This transition can be challenging for both kids and parents.

Guilt can set in when you have to leave your crying child. Your heart says “comfort your baby” while your head says “you need to go.” Walking away goes against your parental instincts, but your child will adjust if you do your part.

As a parent, there is a lot you can do to help your child through this transition. Here are 7 tips that will turn off the tears, and help your child cope with the separation.

7 Practice Separation

Find a trusted caregiver who is able to spend time with your child three times a week. During the first introductory session, stay with your little one and the babysitter. Talk, laugh and play to show your child that you trust the caregiver. On day two, leave your child for one hour. On day three, leave for two hours. Gradually, increase your time away. Doing it in stages will not completely overwhelm your child with separation.

If possible, use the same caregiver, and invite the babysitter to your house. Familiar surroundings can make a smoother transition.

If your child is starting a daycare or kindergarten, pay a visit before the first day of school. Introduce your child to the teacher. Familiarize your little one with the sights and sounds of daycare.

Introduce a new caregiver as early as possible. A newborn will become accustomed to a new person fairly easy. An infant who is three months or older will have a harder time adjusting to an unfamiliar face. The younger your child starts, the easier the transition will be. 

6 Read Books About Separation

A new leap into independence can be challenging, but books can help ease the rough transition. There are several books designed for older children that explain why parents sometimes need to leave. The message in each story can help comfort youngsters in similar situations:

Meredith’s Mother Takes the Train

This rhymed tale is about Meredith and her working mother. Meredith’s mother explains to her young daughter how often she thinks about her when they are not together. This story takes a simple approach to help a child understand what Mommy is doing when she is not there.

I Love You All Day Long

This book is a comforting story about Owen the pig. He doesn’t know what he will do without his mother when he goes to school. His mother reminds him how she will love him all day long: every time he meets a new friend, or when he makes a mistake. The message is, love never stops, even when you’re apart.

The Invisible String

This children’s book illustrates a bond despite a physical separation. To overcome the fear of loneliness, the mother of Jeremy and Liza describes an invisible string that binds them all. This special string connects from heart to heart, no matter how far they travel. The invisible string of love is a concept that children can easily remember.

The Kissing Hand

This popular story offers an introduction to independence. It’s about a young raccoon who would rather stay home than go to school. His mother kisses his hand to remind her baby she is thinking about him when she is not there.

Love You Forever

This best-selling Robert Munsch classic is an affirmation of love. Throughout each stage of her child’s life, a mother reminds her son that she will always love him. While it’s not a book specifically geared to separation, this touching story illustrates unconditional love and the endless bond between a parent and a child. 

5 Plan Separations After Sleep and Meals

When you’re tired and hungry, it’s easy to become annoyed. Children are the same way. A tired kid is a cranky kid. A well-rested child is much more compliant. A good night’s sleep for both you and your baby is imperative.

Another good reason to go to sleep early is to wake up early. You will require a little more time than usual to ensure you don’t feel rushed for any reason. Children are perceptive, and they will pick up on your emotions. If you’re pressed for time and frazzled, your child will mirror your tension. Your stress will put unnecessary stress on your little one.

When your little one wakes up, feed your child, and then spend a quiet moment together to give you some bonding time before the drop-off. The key is to create a routine that you can maintain.

If all else fails, control your emotions. Your own composure and understanding are major factors in helping your child overcome separation anxiety quickly.

4 Pack a Comfort Object

When it comes to freedom, kids have mixed feelings. Standing on your own two feet is necessary, but it’s also scary. A comfort object is like a dependable friend. When you give this object to a child, it acts as a guarantee that you will come back.

Three out of five toddlers use comfort objects. It could be a teddy bear, a security blanket, or a favorite toy. A comfort object is also known as a transitional object. This item is a familiar prop that provides psychological comfort in a strange environment. It helps to keep new surroundings as familiar as possible.

If your child doesn’t have a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket, buy one and use it often before the big day. Smell plays an important part with the comfort object. Make sure your scent is on the item. Sleep with it for a couple nights, so the object is a true reminder of home and mom.

Before you pack your child’s favorite item, check with your caregiver. Sometimes, these objects can interfere with child care programs, especially when other children want to play with them. However, a daycare can make adjustments if your child is truly in need.

Kids eventually relinquish their blankies and tattered teddy bears. When this happens will be up to your child. In the meantime, a little piece of home can calm rattled nerves.

3 Keep Goodbyes Similar and Short

Short and sweet goodbyes establish limits. Reassure your child that he or she will be okay. Develop a “see you later” ritual. A quick kiss on the back of the hand will do. Goodbye routines are encouraging. They can remind a child that you will return after your absence.

After you say goodbye, leave promptly. Do not linger. If your child starts to have a meltdown, do not return. This action will only reinforce that tantrums will bring you back. Drawn out departures inadvertently prolongs the crying.

Leaving will also allow an opportunity for your caregiver to bond with your son or daughter. Child care providers are trained to handle these situations. Trust that your little one in good hands.

Most kids calm down once their parents leave. For the sake of your child and the sake of the child care provider, say goodbye as quickly as possible.

2 Be Calm and Reassuring

When saying goodbye, your child may be scared. A crying child needs a composed parent. If you’re upset, they will be upset, too. Phrases such as “Sorry, Mommy doesn’t want to go either” will not comfort your little one. Don’t let on that you are sad because your child will be sad, too.

Instead, try phrases that will demonstrate your positive attitude. Encourage your child by saying “When I pick you up, you can tell me all about your fun day.” Always leave with a smile.

By all means, do not sneak out when your child’s back is turned. When your child realizes you are not there, they may panic, making subsequent drop-offs more difficult.

When you return, say, “See, Mommy always comes back.” If your child is still having a hard time, offer validation, and encouragement. Say, “I know you’re scared, but I know you can do it.”

1 Relax

It’s understandable why young kids are apprehensive when they are separated from a loved one. Sometimes, children are scared to be alone. There’s also a fear that the parent will never return. This can cause physical distress, including headaches and stomachaches.

Kids are not the only ones who hurt. Parents share the tears and the sadness of their children. We fear that our kids will suffer due to the separation, but your kids will not hate you for leaving. Researchers have found that while children’s stress hormones rise in the midst of new arrangements, the emotional damage does not last.

This is a temporary phase 

Intensity levels of anxiety should subside with age. If your child is over the age of 6 and continues to cry and cling, this could be a “red flag.” Look for warning signs, such as tantrums, fears of being alone, or complaining of an illness when it’s time to separate. If problems persist or get worse, you may need professional intervention. Consult with your pediatrician if you suspect a separation anxiety disorder.

Age-appropriate separation anxiety is a normal, developmental stage that all children experience. Eventually, we all need a gentle push out of the nest. This is how we learn independence.

There may be a crying relapse or two or three, but eventually, these episodes will pass. Remain patient and determined. Trust the process, and think about the new and wonderful adventures that are in store for your child.

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