It can be hard to leave your child with family or friends to have an evening for yourself or drop them off for their first day at nursery. But this can be made a lot harder when your child starts crying or clinging to you as you prepare to leave. You might feel guilty, stressed, overwhelmed and sad.
While these situations can seem heart-wrenching, it can help to note that babies and toddlers (at some point between the ages of 6 months and 2 years) often experience some level of separation anxiety from their significant caregiver as part of their typical development.
Separation anxiety can be an indication of your child’s increasing awareness and understanding of themselves as a small and vulnerable individual in a large and confusing world and of you as the essential consistent figure of safety and security in this world. Thus, separation anxiety is the child’s way of saying “Hey! Don’t leave! I need someone I can trust to take care of me. I don’t know how I will cope in this new situation without you.”
It is important for your child to experience the separations and overcome their anxiety to learn that they can manage without you and that you leaving does not mean you will be gone forever. Here are a couple of tips that can help your child as they negotiate their separation anxiety:
Tip #1 Take it slowly
Start off with short periods of separation, leaving your child with familiar adults in familiar locations, slowly increasing the periods of separation and gradually introducing less familiar locations. If you are leaving your child at a new place and/or with a new babysitter/childminder, it is always helpful to have a familiarisation visit (or a few, if this is possible) so that your child can learn that this new place is safe.
Tip #2 Give reassurance
When you leave, the separation can be made easier if you give your child the reassurance that you will return.
Tip #3 Make goodbyes positive
The separation can also be brightened up by introducing a positive and happy goodbye ritual, which might include a cheerful “bye bye” and a hug. A happy goodbye will give your child the message that everything is ok and that there is nothing to worry about.
The next blog entry in this series will address the case when separation anxiety becomes so distressing for the child that it starts to interfere with everyday life. Click here to read the next post in this series.