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Helping your Child with Separation Anxiety

Updated on February 22, 2013

One of the worst feelings in the world is that first time that you leave your child and she screams and cries and begs you not to go. You know that you're going to be back shortly and that everything will be just fine, but she doesn't know that. It tears you up inside, seeing the raw pain on your child's face as she struggles to understand why you are leaving her. It tugs at something deep inside you, partially because you know that she is not always going to feel this way about you and you almost want to treasure it even though it's so awful. Because you don't want your child to be in pain (and because you want to leave the house without a tearful tug-of-war), you want to do your best to ease separation anxiety.

The first thing that you need to do is get some perspective on the situation. Most parents that have trouble helping their child with separation anxiety are suffering from emotional difficulty of their own over the situation. If this is the case, you will get pulled into the emotional heat of the moment every time that you and your child are going to separate. You need to figure out what's going on with you, what your feelings are and what you need to do as an adult to cope with them. Not only will this set the stage for a calm separation between yourself and your child, but it will set a good example for her. You'll show her that mommy's a big girl and ultimately, she'll want to be a big girl, too.

Once you've gotten your own emotions under control, you should take care of the intellectual side of your own needs in this situation. Read up on child development and the age-appropriate behavior for separation anxiety. This will assist you in getting a grasp on what's going on in the mind of your child. With this knowledge, you'll have a good understanding of whether your child's behavior is normal and age-appropriate (which it probably is) or if something else might be going on to cause the problem. Being able to place yourself in her shoes will help you to come up with creative ideas for helping her through this time.

There are many good ideas for assisting your child with the actual separation. The basic key is to come up with ways to help remind her that you will soon be back. If she isn't afraid of being abandoned, she won't be so terrified that you're leaving. Tricks that fall into the category include things like doing a craft at home with a picture of you and her, a craft which she can take to school. For example, a necklace with a picture on it can be worn to daycare or when a babysitter comes, and you'll remind your child to look at the necklace to remember that you'll be back soon. Another example of this is to remind your child when you leave that you want to know one special thing that she did while you were gone. Make sure that as soon as you see her, you ask about this special thing. That will reinforce that you are going to return every time you leave.

The other side of the coin is making sure that your child's alternative care is pleasant. Children sometimes have separation anxiety because they genuinely don't like the place or person they are being left with. A good care provider will help with the transition by having a set activity for the child which is exciting. If you have a babysitter come to the home, create a ritual for this transition. As you're getting ready to leave, have the child get started on the activity. When the babysitter arrives, the child should show the babysitter what the activity is and how it's going. This eases the transition. A child who is bored, uncomfortable or fearful with a daycare provider will show signs of separation anxiety.


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  • TurnOnYourSenses profile image

    TurnOnYourSenses 8 years ago

    I have found that if you start young and say goodbye when you leave, true they may be upset at first with the babysitter as you go, but over time, they learn that you always come back. I find when people sneak out to avoid the crying, the child becomes anxious even when the parent is home because, the child never knows when you might "disappear". Say goodbye, reassure the child you will return, and make it a big deal when you come back! The kids always adjust quicker than we think with the babysitter. They stop crying minutes after we leave. I leave the house often to go to work, so I am talking from experience.