Although it can be stressful or even frustrating, separation anxiety is a common – especially in early childhood. Here are a few tips to help you out.
How to Handle Separation Anxiety
It’s not just children that experience separation anxiety; parents can as well. For the parents, it can be difficult leaving your child behind for the first time – especially if you are a new parent. For children, it can just be plain scary to be away from the people they have been around every day for their entire lives. Especially if they don’t know what I going on.
So what can we do to help alleviate these negative feelings? Here are a few tips to help you handle separation anxiety.
Tip #1: Operation: Reconnaissance
Whenever possible, check out where you will be leaving your child and who you will be leaving them with. Take your child with you so that they can become familiar with their new surroundings before you have to drop them off for the day.
For example, if your child is about to start daycare or preschool, arrange a time to come to the daycare/school to meet the teachers and take a tour of the facilities. Let your child interact with the teacher and explore the room(s). In this way, you and your child will feel secure that everything will be fine on the day that you have to drop her off.
Tip #2: Communicate Before You Separate
Let your child know what is going to happen that day and make attempts to get her excited about it. When you wake her up in the morning, give her an outline of how the day will proceed.
Even if it is a general outline (eat breakfast, go to school to learn and play, get picked up by mommy for a playdate, come home and see daddy, etc.), by letting her know what to expect, you give her a chance to mentally prepare for it. This also gives you a chance to ask her how she feels about the plans and give her a chance to respond.
However she responds (excitement, fear, distress, anger, confusion, etc.), do your best to address it calmly and with respect for her feelings.
Tip #3: Establish Routines
It can be a huge help (in general, but especially when dealing with separation anxiety), if you are able to establish predictable routines. Having a predictable routine helps your child know what is going to happen next. It eliminates surprises and shocks which may upset them. It also helps them to prepare for what’s ahead.
Perhaps you can fix their favorite breakfast, read their favorite book, play their favorite game, or sing a goodbye song. I also recommend that you always say goodbye to your child and let them know that you will be back. It can sometimes be tempting to sneak off – especially if you feel like saying goodbye might result in tears.
However, it can also cause them distress to realize that you left without saying goodbye. Just a quick “see you later” may be enough to help them be confident of your imminent return.
Tip #4: Give Them Coping Tools
If you feel that your child needs some type of security object to hold on to while you are gone, you can give them something from home that reminds them of family. For example, you can place a family picture in their backpack or give them a small trinket from you, such as a watch that will tell them what time you will return.
Tip #5: Be on Time
Finally, return to pick them up in a timely manner. If you know that you will be running late, let your childcare provider know so that they can let your child know that you will be there a little later than expected, but that you are on your way. By being on time to pick them up, you are helping to build up their trust and feelings of security.
Does your preschooler struggle with separation anxiety? Did you find any of these tips helpful? What tips do you have for other parents dealing with separation anxiety? Leave a comment below and let us know.