Helping your Child to Cope with Separation Anxiety

a mother teaching her baby girl a goodbye kissAfter my 4 months of maternity break, it is time to return to work, which also means leaving my daughter with a caregiver while I am away. During my teaching days, I have handled a class of crying children and I thought I could handle my child’s separation anxiety well since I am aware of what to expect. Oh my, was I wrong? The daily crying was so stressful. The good news is that there is a lot a parent can do to make separation more manageable. Based on my experience as parent and a preschool educator, here are some tips that I would like to share to help you cope better!

  1. Prepare your child for separation
    Children like to know what to expect; it provides them with sense of security. So, talk to your child before the separation. Tell your child where you will be going, why you have to go and why you cannot bring him/her along.I do this every day even though I know my daughter will cry as soon as she knows I will be going out. Slowly, she starts to understand that it is a daily routine: While I go to work, she will go to school or the caregiver’s home.

    It would also help if you know your child’s schedule in advance, so that you could get him/her to anticipate and look forward to the activities, instead of fearing what might happen next. Always remember to assure your child that you will be back as soon as possible. If your child is aware of the concept of time, tell him/her the time that you would be back. Remember to keep your promise.

  2. iStock_000004325053XSmallPractise separation
    Most children kick up a really big fuss when their parents try to leave them. Some parents might even ask themselves if such daily drama is necessary. After all, you are not leaving for good, but only a few hours. Now, try putting yourself in your child’s shoes. When your child sees you leaving, chances are he/she might think that you are leaving for good. Moreover, if you are leaving your child with someone at somewhere that he/she has never seen before, it would be even more frightening for him/her. Your child would need time to adapt to these changes that he/she might find overwhelming. Hence, be patient and do not rush things through.

    I strongly recommend parents to stay with their children for the first few days till they are more comfortable and feeling secure with the environment before slowly extending the time you leave them with the caregivers. For example, if you are sending your child to a child care, pick him/her up before lunch on the first day, after lunch on the second day and after nap on the third day, etc. Take the opportunity to also let your child bond with the caregiver in your presence.

  3. Mother and sonAvoid prolonged separation

    When I see my daughter wailing as I am leaving, many negative thoughts start running through my mind, such as – “She seems to be in distress.”, “Why is she crying so hard?”, “Is she not feeling well?” Hence, after dropping my daughter off, I would always try to sneak around and peep at her to ensure that she is really alright before Ifinally go off. There were times she would catch me red handed and she would scream even louder.  For the next few days, she would always stand at the door and wail as loudly as she could, knowing that even if I was out of sight, I might still be somewhere nearby. Later, I realized that my sneaking around was really a bad idea. After all, crying and tantrums are healthy reactions to separation. So after that, I decided to be firm and leave as soon after I had given her a hug and a goodbye kiss. As usual, she would cry hysterically, literally begging for me to stay. However, after a week, I noticed that she began to seek comfort from the caregiver and was able to calm down faster.

  4. Say goodbye
    I personally find it very tempting to slip out unnoticed when my daughter is engaged with something so that I do not have to deal with the entire emotional struggle. However, looking from the child’s point of view, it is going to be very traumatizing for the child when he/she suddenly notices that you are gone. In the future, your child would most likely be very worried when you suddenly disappear again and this would create more anxiety for him/her. It is therefore advisable to have a “goodbye” ritual before you leave such as giving kisses, hugs, waving goodbye, etc.
  5. Girl waving goodbye in a car.Avoid comparing
    “Why are you crying? Look at that child! He is not even crying, what a good boy!” I used to hear a lot of such comments when I was taking the children’s temperature in school. This kind of comments will only add on to the children’s stress when they are already feeling so miserable. There is nothing wrong with a child trying to express his/her emotions through crying.
  6. Offer “comfort”
    Most children have a comfort object such as a special toy, pillow, blanket, etc. Talk to the school and allow your child to bring such object to school during the transition period. You will be surprised at how these objects can calm them down.The intensity of those tearful tantrums will vary from child to child and some will even last for weeks. This is common phase for young children and they will fade as they grow older. However, if the anxieties intensify to the extent that they affect your child’s normal daily activities, last for a few months or occur in a child over the age of 6,these symptoms might signify a bigger problem – separation anxiety disorder. It is advisable to seek professional treatment for such condition.