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Easing separation anxiety

October 1, 2016
Melissa Marote , MOV Parent

Sometimes our children have a difficult time saying good bye as we leave. But there are a few tips that can help ease their separation anxiety. It's never easy for a child (and sometimes a parent) to say goodbye. Children, especially under the age of three, often have a difficult time watching a parent leave. But often our reactions to these situations help the child decide how he or she reacts.

Before you get to where you are dropping your child off, let him or her know that you will be leaving and that you will be coming back. Small children have a rather hazy idea of time frames, so telling them "in 2 hours" is not very helpful. You could say something like, "You will have lunch at the daycare, but we will have dinner together." That might make more sense to your little one.

Some parents advise just sneaking out, but this is never a good idea. It breaks the bonds of trust a child is forming with you and other adults. It is best to give your child a hug or kiss, wave goodbye and then leave. Let them know you will be back; you might even tell them how much fun they will be having. When leaving my kids with a sitter, I like to have a special project or game ready for the children and sitter to begin just as I am leaving.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to never stretch out the goodbyes. This makes separation more difficult. The child may sense the sadness you too are feeling, which will tend to make them more sad or scared. Look confident and happy for them, let them know you love them and will be back, then GO.

It is very normal and natural for a child to cry and reach out to you and even cling, but as soon as you are gone, within minutes the child usually calms down and starts to adjust to the new setting.

This is what I have always been told by every sitter and teacher I have dealt with. They say that the child cries for a minute or so, and then begins to have a good time with a new friend or activity.

Do not expect separation anxiety to disappear immediately. This could take weeks. Be patient. Adjusting to a new school, new surroundings, new caregivers, and new friends is kind of scary for some. This is completely normal, but over time, the child should adjust. When your child sees the confidence and trust you have for the other caregivers in charge of your little one, they too will also feel safe and comfortable.

And be sure to give yourself some time to adjust. I recall sitting in my car crying the first couple of times I left my daughter at a preschool. It tore me up to see her missing me and reaching out to me. I felt guilty and questioned my motherly worth for a moment. But allowing your child to be around his or her peers teaches valuable life lessons. It offers so much personal growth and enjoyment for the child. My daughter Scarlett was so shy and quiet before preschool. Now we see her developing leadership skills. The kids want to do what she is doing! She especially loves this because, while she's the "little sister" at home, she's an equal, and frequently looked up to, at school. She really loves going to school now.

Good luck everyone!

Melissa Marote is a licensed professional clinical counselor and received her doctorate in counselor education from Ohio University.



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