As a parent, leaving your kids in someone else’s hands can often be an emotional and slightly disconcerting experience. It can be difficult to leave them with the babysitter or drop them off at their first day of school. It becomes much more difficult when they cling to your leg, cry and beg you not to leave them alone.
Toddler separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of the childhood development process, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult or stressful for parents to deal with. No one enjoys walking away when their kid is crying for them to come back, but for most parents, it’s simply not realistic to watch your kids all day, every day. Work and obligations get in the way - and besides, you deserve to give yourself a break once in a while.
Coping with your child’s separation anxiety may not be easy, but it’s not impossible. There are steps you can take to reduce your child’s fear and anxiety and help them become more comfortable with separation. Here are some tips on dealing with your own toddler’s separation anxiety.
Say goodbye before leaving
Although it may be tempting to wait until your child is distracted by something to dash off and leave them, it won’t help with their separation anxiety and might leave their babysitter or caretaker frustrated about having an unnecessarily emotional child on their hands. If you sneak away while your toddler isn’t looking, she isn’t going to just happily assume the day can start - instead, she’ll panic when she’s discovered you’re gone, assuming you’ve left her behind. Her mind might start racing.
Children are very anxious at this stage because they’ve learned to rely entirely on their caretakers and can feel unsafe and exposed when separated from mom or dad. Although you want to help your child adjust to your absence, you don’t want to startle them or make them feel abandoned.
Before you leave, take the time to say goodbye to your child. Let her know where you’re going and when you’re coming back, and give her a kiss and a hug. She may be upset and plead with you to stay, but leaving without saying goodbye could cause even more anxiety.
Lead by example and stay calm
A common mistake for parents to make is to display sadness, anxiety or guilt about leaving a child behind. Kids can read your mood and gauge your reaction, and if they think you’re giving in, they’re going to keep pushing your buttons until they get what they want.
Parents should avoid unnecessarily prolonging goodbyes by becoming emotional or saying they don’t want to leave their child behind. If you give your child the impression that being left with a babysitter is being abandoned, left behind or otherwise not cared for, she’s going to be anxious about staying behind as well. You might then consider working from home and using a virtual address provider to run your business. If you instead display confidence and reassure her that she will have a fun and safe time with her temporary guardian, you will be setting a more positive example for her.
Don’t turn around and come back for a second round of goodbyes when you leave, because you’ll just confuse and upset your child, and then make her feel double betrayed when you leave again. Set clear boundaries, stick to them and don’t complain about it in front of your child. Even if you hate walking away - which isn’t unusual - it’s important to remind her that she’s safe and well cared for with her guardian.
For most children, anxiety will go away with a bit of time and patience. If your child’s anxiety appears particularly extreme or long-lasting, evaluate the other circumstances in her life for potential causes of anxiety. With time, patience and reassurance, your child will learn to leave her fears behind and cheerfully wave goodbye as you drop her off at school or the babysitter’s house.