If your child cries as soon as you leave the room or whenever you drop them off at day-care, it is perfectly normal to be plagued with feelings of guilt. This is not a sign that you’re doing anything wrong, in fact, this is a positive sign that you have developed a bond with your child. Your child might simply be suffering from separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety in early childhood can consist of crying, restlessness, tantrums, and clinginess. These are all normal and they usually begin any time after a child is 9 months old. However, the timing and intensity of separation anxiety vary from child to child. It may go away and reappear over the years until a child is around four years old. It usually occurs because children believe that their survival depends on the consistent presence of a primary caregiver. They also don’t fully understand the concept of time, which means that they can’t tell the difference between when you leave for ten minutes and when you leave for a couple of hours.
The best way to deal with separation anxiety is through planning and the good old remedy that is time. The latter will eventually take care of the problem in the long run because as your child gets older, they’ll begin to understand that your brief absence isn’t the end of the world. On the other hand, the former requires proactiveness from you as a parent, as it will improve the situation in the short term and subsequently feed into the long-term development of your child.
How can I ease my child’s separation anxiety?
Developing a routine and sticking to it can play a role in reducing your child’s anxiety. You can do this by creating a drop off routine, for example, whether you’re dropping them off at your parent’s or daycare you must do it at the same time and same place. This will create a secondary sense of security for your child because they will eventually get used to the fact that at that time they have to go to a particular place.
For your child to trust that you are coming back to them you need to keep your promises. If you tell your child you are coming back after two hours, then you must make sure you stick to that time. This will ensure that your child doesn’t develop trust issues. If your child trusts you then it will be easier to let go of you when you have to leave.
Practice Being Apart
This means that if you want your child to transition in a healthy way from being with you all the time to going to daycare, for example, you must ease them into it. You can achieve this by leaving them with a caretaker or their grandparents for a few hours. This will allow them to get used to being left in the care of other people, such that once they make the jump to spending the day at day-care they will not be traumatized.
When you leave make sure to say goodbye to your child, sneaking off is a bad idea as this will distress the child further. Show them affection and give them a teddy bear, for example, to soothe the anxiety. However, keep the goodbyes short and sweet no matter how much they cry. This is because the longer the goodbye ritual the more intense the anxiety will get.
It’s very easy to wallow in guilt in the beginning because you worry about your child, even though caretakers will tell you that your child stops crying after you’ve left. However, things will eventually get easier with time and practice for you and your child.