As a stay at home mom, my children have all grown up with me in the home with them. I’m the one that feeds them, soothes them, nurtures them, helps them, carries them, and more throughout the day to day happenings in our home. My husband is a very hands on father, but he also is the sole breadwinner for our family and spends many hours out working hard to support us. From birth, my children are used to me being the one that is a constant presence in their lives. We never use babysitters and rarely leave our children with family members. There was just no need because I was available.
Every one of my four children has gone through a stage of separation anxiety at some point in their baby or toddlerhood. Everything is peachy until Mommy steps out of the room. Then a meltdown ensues and they cannot be soothed by anyone else. It’s a difficult time both for baby and Mommy. My heart would break every time I’d see the outstretched arms and hear the pitiful cries, but sometimes a mama has to do something besides hold her baby. Houses don’t clean themselves, meals don’t cook on their own, showers are necessary, etc.
Here are a few of the tips that I used to get through this stage of childhood. I hope they can be of help to another mom out there!
10 Tips for Handling Separation Anxiety
- Be Patient.
While it can be frustrating when someone else says it, the saying, “this too shall pass” is really true. This is merely a stage. It will feel long and arduous when you are in the midst of it, but in years to come it will be just a blip in your child’s life. Don’t get frustrated with your child. They aren’t doing anything wrong. They are just reacting to their natural and normal instincts of desiring to be close to those who protect them.
- Find Them a Lovey.
This can often be easier said than done, but keep trying. Some children like stuffed animals. Others like blankies. My four year old has an attachment to one of my camisoles. You never know what your child will grow attached to, but once you find that one lovable thing that they can’t eat, play, or sleep without (immediately buy a duplicate and store it somewhere) you will be one step closer to them having a way to seek comfort away from you. My eight year old still sleeps with the stuffed puppy that she received as a gift when she was eight months old. Loveys become best friends.
- Slow Introductions.
If you know in advance that you are going to have to leave your little one with a caregiver, why not invite the sitter over a few times before that time so that they can begin to build a relationship with your child? Even if it’s Grandma or another relative, baby is still going to prefer you. They are too little to really care that the person with them is family, they just know that it isn’t mama( or daddy). Don’t force anything, but do encourage some bonding while you are present to make them still feel secure.
- Don’t Be Sneaky.
When I first began to attend our former church, my second child was only a little over a year old. He had never been away from me at any time. I was ushered to the church nursery and reassured time and time again that my son “would be just fine.” I was repeatedly encouraged to just quickly steal away when my son wasn’t looking, but I insisted on staying put with him to help with the transition and when it didn’t go well, I stayed with him. I personally don’t feel like it’s beneficial to you or your child to teach them that they can’t trust you to stick around when they need you. If they turn their heads and you run out, it can make their feelings of fear and anxiousness grow.
You can begin to get your child accustomed to you not being in their presence by testing the waters at home. Put them somewhere safe (a high chair, bouncy seat, etc.) and then step into the next room. Say things like, “Mommy has to go get a glass of water. I will be right back.” While you are in the other room, sing or continue to talk so that they can hear you. Continue to do this until you come back to the room. Then say something like, “See? Mama’s back! I came back to my baby!” Gradually build up to leaving the room without making noise while you are away. Note: Do not leave your child unattended for more than a minute or two and always, always stay within earshot.
- Don’t Make Goodbyes Drag On.
When you must leave your child, don’t make a big production of the goodbyes. If you have the time, try your best to get them comfortable with you going, but don’t feed into the cries and whines by overexaggerating what is happening. Validate their feelings in a calm, matter of fact way, but don’t become overemotional or they will feel like they must also be emotional about the separation. Try to be cheerful and reassuring.
- Keep Your Word.
If you tell your toddler that you will be back after their nap, then be back when they wake up. They are too little to understand that Mommy decided to swing into Target on the way back because of a great sale and got detoured for an extra 30 minutes. They only know that you aren’t there when you said that you would be. Of course, there are times when delays are unavoidable, but don’t derail your return with frivolous things that can wait until another time.
- Have the Sitter Come to You.
I know that Auntie Carol really wants baby to come over to see the new toy she just bought for your sweet little guy/girl, but being in their own home can help ease some of the stress for your child of their parent leaving. Familiar surroundings can soothed worries and fears instead of adding to them. If this isn’t possible, think of taking some trinket from your home that your child loves with them (a pillow, a favorite toy, an item of your clothing, etc.).
- Don’t Scold Your Child.
This isn’t a disciplinary issue. It doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with your child. It is a normal developmental stage that actually shows that you have done a great job of building your parental bond with your little one. The world is big and scary to small children and when their source of comfort and protection leaves them, it’s completely understandable that they would feel apprehensive. Refer back to #1.
- Shower Them with Love, Praise, and Affection.
When you return home, make sure to give lots of comforting hugs and kisses. Let them know that just because you left, doesn’t mean you aren’t still there for them. If they do well while you are gone, praise their efforts. If you have an older toddler, you may even consider a small reward if they were able to maintain their composure while you were away. Positive reinforcement can go a long way and reassurance of your love and presence is an absolute must.
These are the ten ways that I help my children through this difficult stage. What are your tips for dealing with separation anxiety?