Separation anxiety is a normal phase of child development. “By eight months, a child notices differences between a known caregiver and a stranger and may begin to show anxiety or fear with others,” says Danielle Bettmann, parent coach and owner of the Failing Motherhood Podcast. They feel unsafe without their regular caregivers.
Separation anxiety can last until the preschool stage. We all go through it, as challenging as it is. As a mom, I found it to be a rough stage, especially when it came to dropping them off at daycare so you can work. It’s very easy to let the mom guilt go wild, but I’m here today to share a few positive ways to deal with this stage, making it easier for everyone.
Give them a heads up: Toddlers may not understand extensive verbal language yet, but they can understand more receptively. My children cope better with all changes in their life if they’ve had a pre-warning. Explain to your toddler about their change in routine. I use books to help us through every change in their life. Read together, watch episodes of their favorite programs that deal with separation (Daniel Tiger comes to mind).
Don’t pretend it isn’t happening: When you have to say goodbye to your toddler, don’t pretend or slip away; face up to it and confidently say goodbye.
Keep goodbyes short and familiar: Don’t catastrophize saying goodbye. You chose their alternative caregiver for a reason; trust them to comfort your child. “Create a short 'goodbye routine' and use it consistently, like a kiss on both cheeks, a big hug, and a high five.” Danielle Bettmann notes. The more you use it, the more familiar it gets, and it can become something you can use for years, even long after separation anxiety is a thing of the past.
Validate their feelings: Let them know it’s okay to be scared; it’s okay to be worried about new places but that they’ll have so much fun too!
Remind your tot you will be back: Remind them you’ll be back for them in a way they’d understand like “after lunch” and be there at that time. It will build their trust and lessen their anxiety.
Tokens: For my middle child, it was his favorite muslin cloth; for others, it might be a favorite bear. “Whenever possible, use a tangible token to assist with a transition,” explains Jena Detore, Literary Safari’s Early Childhood Curriculum Designer.
Practice: Practice the separations over and again. This method has worked for all my children, and Jena Detore agrees, “Begin with small and short separations at home. Again, let the child know where you are going when you’ll be back, and who they will be with while you are gone; practice with family and close friends as you gradually increase distance and time apart.”
Trust your gut: If after a few weeks, things still haven’t settled down, I would look over things again. My middle child didn’t settle at the first childcare setting we’d picked for him. He would cry and didn’t stop. I pulled him out and changed his provider to an in-home caregiver, and he loved it there. It was tricky with my routine as the previous one was on my eldest’s school grounds, but it was worth it for the year. I tried him again, and this time, he thrived. He just wasn’t ready for a busy nursery environment.
Overall, the best thing you can do is keep your own emotions and reactions composed so you can help your child overcome their fears.