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How to Deal with Separation Anxiety for You and Your Child

How to Deal with Separation Anxiety for You and Your Child
Posted on August 26, 2016 by CHS

It is time.  After months – or years – of spending all day with your child, the time has come for them to start child care or preschool, and for you to get back to work, school, or simply take a break.  It is an exciting season of change for both of you…until it is time to say goodbye.

After dropping off your child with a hug and a promise that you will be back soon, tears well up in her eyes. She starts whimpering, reaches out her arms, and cries: “Don’t leave!” Suddenly your plans for a relaxing cup of coffee with a friend, or anticipated return to the office, seem awfully selfish and unappealing. You start to second-guess your decision with questions like “Is it too soon? Am I a horrible parent?  Is this the wrong thing for her?” Sound familiar?

Separation from your child is challenging and can create anxiety for both parent and child. The good news is that this scenario, and the accompanying feelings, are normal. With a little preparation, there are ways to make it easier on both of you!

Here are some tips to help prepare both you and your child for separation.

  • Inform Your Child: Explain to your child what daycare/preschool is, where she will be, what will happen, and what to expect in the new situation.
  • Plan a Visit: Take a tour of the facility. Exploring the environment will help your child gain familiarity and ease fears.
  • Goodbye Ritual: Develop a special goodbye ritual that you and your child share at every separation. It should be short, pleasant, loving, and consistent.
  • Transitional Objects: Let your child choose a part of home to bring to child care, such as a blanket, snuggly toy, or photograph. This extends the security and comfort of home to the unfamiliar setting.
  • Plan Short Separations: Go out for date nights with your spouse, or quick trips to the store to help get your child used to you leaving. This teaches them that leaving does not always mean being gone for eight hours, and that you always return.
  • Expect Challenges: Be prepared for your own separation anxiety. Know that it is perfectly normal, and it does not have to be easy.
  • Build Trust: Tell the child the truth – that you are leaving but you will be back. Do not sneak out, hoping they will not notice, as this does not build trust. Say something like: “Mommy is going to work and I will come back to get you after your nap” (or whatever time, based on an activity in the child’s schedule). 

Separation anxiety is normal, but by helping your child to be prepared for new situations and by addressing your own feelings of anxiety as a parent, you can make the transition from home to child care smoother.  For more information on Separation, download our Separation - Easing the Transition from Home to Child Care brochure or listen to our podcast on Separation here.

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