I didn’t know what to expect when the time came to leave my toddler in the care of someone new. I was given lots of well-meant advice on how to deal with separation anxiety in a toddler, should it occur, but I really was not prepared.
No parent wants to leave their baby or toddler crying as they have to leave. So I decided to put together some research and my own experiences to help with this transition and make it easier.
Children begin to show signs of separation anxiety between the ages of eight months to around two years. As a toddler has no sense of time, only a few minutes out of eyesight can result in anxiety-related crying.
Separation anxiety is different from other toddler outbursts. Tantrums tend to appear if a child gets frustrated, is being stubborn or can’t deal with big emotions. Separation anxiety, while related, is specifically identified by clinging on to the parent when leaving, sobbing uncontrollably and withdrawing from family and others.
Even going to the bathroom is challenging with some toddlers as this is seen as abandonment in their eyes. A child forms a close bond with the person who is with them most of the time, who gives them food and comfort when they are upset.
When it comes to the time when you finally have to leave your little one with somebody new, it can be emotional to say the least. Especially if they get upset when you leave.
This bond you have with your child needs to be facilitated with the childminder or nursery as well—but this won’t happen overnight for some children. It will take time and patience.
Dealing With Separation Anxiety
If your little one has begun to show signs of not wanting to let you go, you need to deal with it before it gets too unsettling for everybody involved. Below are some helpful tips that I found worked for us.
Develop A Good Relationship With The New Carer
Worried about leaving your child? Take your baby or toddler to meet the carer. Let the carer introduce themselves and try to make a connection with them while you are present. You also need to feel confident that the carer will be able to comfort baby when you leave.
Discuss ideas on how your toddler may be pacified—this is an important factor. Do they have a favorite thing to do, such as a video or cartoon, playing with lego or playdough? All these factors can and do play a large part in soothing a crying child and helping them to settle down.
Distraction techniques are great, such as finding a toy they are really interested in and then taking a back seat while the carer makes that vital connection.
Leave a favorite toy with the child as a comfort and help them to feel safe with the familiarity of the toy.
This will take time, so begin a few weeks before the crucial separation time.
Note: Separation anxiety is not easy for parents either. I was a very possessive mom, resenting the fact that someone else could entertain my child and comfort him. But these feelings pass.
Short Separations Are Best To Begin The Transition
When baby has developed a relationship with the carer, try a short separation time. Remember to always say goodbye to your child (don’t try to sneak away as they may feel unsafe in a relatively new situation) then leave immediately.
Try leaving for 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, increasing the time as you feel comfortable with. Your child will realize you will come back eventually, therefore lessening the stress on both of you.
Decide On A Goodbye Routine
Although it may not be important to you, it is to your child. Make sure to develop a short but meaningful goodbye routine. Perhaps a hug followed by a kiss, and then hand your child to the carer. Say goodbye and refrain from looking back.
Try To Help Your Child Understand Where You Are Going
Even though they may have a limited vocabulary, a toddler understands more than they can say. Try to talk to them and explain that you must go to work and that they are going to be with their new carer until you come back from work to pick them up.
Explain to them how much fun they are going to have painting, playing in the sand and splashing in water. Toddlers like playing in the house corner with the little kitchen, and point out all the other children they can play with and make friends with.
Leave a toy from home with them and say how much fun it will be for, say, teddy.
Will My Child Grow Out Of This Separation Anxiety?
As children mature and their self confidence develops, they will grow out of the anxiety of leaving mom and dad.
But these feelings can recur at any time, especially if the child is feeling unwell or stressed at what is going on around them. Taking time off for vacations and possibly having to move from one place to another can all affect a child’s confidence.
This is a normal part of the growing up sequence. Be assured that these feelings will dissipate over time.
Adults can also suffer these feelings especially after a death, divorce or just moving away from their family.
Is There A Point At Which You Should Be Worried?
If your child’s anxiety seems extreme, such as vomiting and self harm, then the situation needs to be looked at holistically.
Look at the childcare setting—does it feel inviting and welcoming, is their carer sympathetic and gives a warm feeling to the child? Is there a divorce or separation where one parent is not there all the time, or more drastic, the death of a parent? How to explain the death of a parent is hard, this needs specialist help.
Then the need for outside help from a doctor who deals with these problems must be sought.
Not all children will suffer from separation anxiety. For those who do, it can be stressful and lead to further problems in later years if not dealt with appropriately, with time and patience.
If the problem is more serious then medical help should be sought without delay.