By Michelle LaRowe
Does your darling turn devil during day care drop off? Go nutty when nanny arrives for duty? Torture her preschool teacher with tears and tantrums? This all too familiar transformation is also known as separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is real and many young children fear discovering new places without mom or dad at an arm reach away. They also at times feel real distress when a parent “leaves” them, but I have found that how a parent approaches the situation can significantly impact how a child responds.
I firmly believe that if you approach a situation with a positive upbeat attitude, your child will follow suit.
What can you do to ease your child into independence and in all the while keep your and your child’s sanity during these stressful separations?
• Acknowledge her feelings. “I hear you are feeling sad about going to school without mommy. It is okay to feel sad when we try new things, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.” Validate and reassure her without leading her to believe that her feelings can change the reality of the situation.
• Your child is watching. She will pick up on your anxieties and worries and may try to manipulate them rather than deal with the situation. If you know that the place you have chosen is safe, appropriate and loving then you should feel confident leaving your child in the care of the providers. Show your child that you trust those you are leaving her with by being friendly to the staff and thanking them for taking such good care of your child, in front of her.
• Never leave your child without saying good bye. However tempting it is to “sneak out” don’t. It undermines trust – the trust she has in you and the trust you have in those who are left caring for her.
• Make good byes short and sweet. Come up with a predictable good bye routine and stick to it. “See ya later alligator.” “In awhile crocodile.” Although it is tempting, if the tears come (and you know your child is not sick or something out of the ordinary isn’t happening) keep to the routine and go. Prolonging good byes and coming back after you left once because you hear the tears isn’t fair to your child and usually makes the situation worse.
• Don’t offer rewards for your child “staying” without you. The reality of the situation is she needs to stay. Rewarding her for what she has to do is manipulating the situation and making the child believe that she has “control” of a situation that she really has no control over.
• Talk to your child at home about her day. Ask open ended questions so that you can pick up on what is going on without influencing her responses. For example ask “How was your day?” rather than “Did you have a good day?”
Saying “see ya later” can be hard for you and your child. If you appear to be (yes fake it if you have to) confident and excited about the start of the day, she should follow suit.
You have an important role in making your child feel secure and safe. When you are supportive and encouraging and show confidence in your selection of providers and facilities your child will see that and the confidence and it will transfer to her.