By Linda DiProperzio
If your child loses it anytime you drop him off at daycare or leave him at home with a babysitter, you know the heartbreak and guilt any parent feels when it happens. But know you’re not alone. “Separation anxiety is normal for all babies and toddlers,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Psy.D., author of The Self-Aware Parent. “If a healthy, warm attachment/bond has been established between Mommy and her infant or toddler, it is only natural that the baby feels anxiety when separated from her.”
Luckily, there are ways you can make parting with your child easier and stress-free—for the both of you. Here’s separation anxiety solutions for babies and toddlers.
Take baby steps. If you’re leaving your little one for the first time, start off small, leaving him for an hour or so to help ease him get used to your absence. “As your child adapts, you can increase the amount of time you spend away,” says Candi Wingate, president of the caregiver database Care4Hire.
Find a familiar face. Another separation anxiety solution? Choose a sitter that your child knows and is comfortable with, says Wingate. For example, you may want to have your child present during babysitter interviews. You can observe how the candidates interact with your little one, and see if there’s an initial connection before leaving your child alone with the sitter. The same goes with daycare: Bring your tot along with you when you check out different centers.
Stay calm. Even when your child is in the midst of a major meltdown, don’t let her see you sweat—or cry, says Richard Peterson, Vice President of Education at Kiddie Academy. Becoming agitated or upset over your child’s crying will only make her more anxious.
Don’t skip the goodbye. Some parents think that sneaking out when their child isn’t looking is a separation anxiety solution, but typically that results in even more anxiety for the child, along with more crying, screaming and carrying on, explains Linda Whitehead, Vice President of education and development at Bright Horizons Family Solutions. Make the goodbye short, but don’t eliminate it.
Be reassuring. During the goodbye process, tell your child you’ll be back as soon as you can. “If she’s old enough, let her know you’ll do something special together when you reunite—like play a favorite game or take a trip to the playground,” says Peterson.
Keep it moving. As hard as it is, don’t turn back to comfort your child if she’s upset, says Ingrid Kellaghan, a child-development/parenting expert and founder of Cambridge
Nanny Group in Chicago. This will only prolong your child’s meltdown—and make it harder for you to get out the door.
Leave something behind. Give the sitter or daycare a photo of you with your child, or a special stuffed animal or blanket that she can use to comfort herself when you’re not around. “Offering children reminders of their parent that evoke warm, loving feelings or happy memories can actually lessen their anxiety about the separation,” says Shaun Gallagher, author of Experimenting With Babies.
Give it some time. Rest assured that eventually, it will get easier to separate from your child. The meltdowns will get shorter and eventually disappear altogether, says Peterson. Your child might even start to look forward to seeing his sitter or friends at daycare.
Make your return special. Give lots of hugs and kisses, and let your little one know you missed him. Hearing that will never get too old!