Easing Separation Anxiety

Attending an early-learning program such as long day care, pre-school or family day care is an important and exciting stage in a child's development. They will have opportunities to interact with other children and educators, and benefit from a stimulating learning environment.

Some children embrace this change with an enthusiasm, while others may feel afraid, upset or anxious. It may be the first time they have been in the care of adults who are not part of their family, or the environment could be noisy and crowded compared to being at home, making it all feel a bit too much.

There are a number of things you can do to help your child settle into the new environment. When a child gets angry, upset or worried and their behaviour is hard to manage, try to think about what may be going on for the child. It is important with toddlers to make them feel comfortable with the caregiver, this can be accomplished by the parent greeting the caregiver when he or she arrives and introduce the child and tell them why they are there.

For example, “This is Miss Julie. She’s here to come play with you while mummy runs to the store!” The parent could then interact with the child and get them involved in an activity such as colouring or get them interested in some toys that the child enjoys, they could even turn on a movie for the child and caregiver to watch together. Once the child is occupied, the parent should then give the child a hug and take their leave.

Many children experience separation anxiety because they view their parent as their only source of safety and security. If that source leaves then the child feels that he or she is in danger and will act out in fear. So, although it might be tempting for the parent to slip out unnoticed while the child is occupied however, the parent should always say tell the child they are going to leave but that they will come back soon.

Parents should communicate to their children when you will be picking them up. This, of course, should be communicated in an age appropriate way. For example, a parent could say something along the lines of “I’ll will be back to take you home after snack time” or “I will pick you up when the long hand is on the 3.” The parent should be consistent and true to their word and return when they say they will. When children know that their parent is coming back and they’ll be back when they say they will the child will have reduced stress and be less likely to cry and throw tantrums.

No matter the age of the child separation anxiety is a stressful stage for both caregiver and child. However there are a variety of practices that can ease transitions:

• Practice separating from your child for short periods of time or only going to the next room for a few minutes.
• Ensure your child is well fed before you leave, and not over tired.
• Create a comfortable and familiar environment for your child.
• Develop a good relationship with your caregiver.
• Create a “goodbye ritual”.

It is important that as the parent carries out the separation process that they do so confidently. If the parent is wavering or questioning himself or herself then the child will pick up on that and capitalize off of that weakness by manipulating the parents emotions. It is the parent’s job to act purposefully and not backtrack or waver on what they say. The parent should leave when they say they will and come back when they say they will and gently but firmly tell the child to behave itself while they are not together.

Tony Barton
Tony Barton