‘Psychology Today’ describes Separation Anxiety as a developmental stage in which a child experiences anxiety due to separation from the primary caregiver (usually the mother). This phase is fairly standard at around 8 months of age and can last until the child is 14 months old. In young children, unwillingness to leave a parent or a caregiver is a sign that attachments have developed between the caregiver and child. The child is beginning to understand that each object (including people) in the environment is different and permanent. When the caregiver shows signs that they want to leave, the child becomes difficult and very clingy. Young children do not yet understand time, therefore they do not know when or even if a caregiver will ever come back. Children at this stage struggle between the desire to strike out on their own and the need to stay safe by a parent or caregivers side. The good news is that separation anxiety is a normal stage in an infant’s development. It helped keep our ancestors alive and helps children learn how to master their environment. It usually ends when the child is 2years. When toddlers begin to understand that a parent may be out of sight right now, but they will return later. At this age, a child also tends to want to test their autonomy.
At Cradles and Crayons Daycare, Parents and Caregivers often ask us how best to deal with Separation Anxiety and below are a few tactics we advise on.
- Expect crying but do not overact.
The more you struggle the more your child will too. Remember that the ‘struggle’ doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal. Children are very good at reading our body language. If you are tense, they tense up. If you show calm, they will too. When the crying comes (and believe me when I say it will), stay calm. Say your goodbyes then walk away. We at the Daycare will handle the rest. This may seem hard to believe but your child will calm down and stop crying when you leave.
- Try to keep drop-offs short and sweet.
The best way to explain this is like the removal of an Elastoplast. Do you pull it off slowly and prolong the anxiety and pain or would you rather rip it all off at one go and experience little or no pain?
Basically, the longer you dilly dally around the Daycare ‘saying bye’, the longer it will take your child to adjust and calm down.
- Some children adjust quickly while some take longer. Be prepared. With time it gets easier.
We’ve had a few parents who during the Day 1 drop-off, take the morning off from work, carry a box of tissues and come prepared for the all drama they believe will ensue only for their child to downplay the whole scenario and waltz into the Daycare like they own the place. If this is you, smile for you are one of the lucky few.
If however, the drama did ensue and the thought of the upcoming drop-offs is giving you heartburn, hang in there. It gets easier. Within no time you will fondly look back at the first drop-off days and smile.
- If your child is old enough to walk, let them.
Do not hold or coddle them. Praise them for going in even if they are crying. The simple act of them walking in on their own gives them the chance to experience the Daycare as an individual. This shows that they are developing their autonomy. This is a huge deal. Be careful not to overpraise through!
- Praise them if the crying eases
This makes the child realize that they have done a good deed and should not feel afraid.
- Always say “goodbye, see you later”
Sneaking off without saying goodbye is one mistake many caregivers unknowingly make. If you are a ‘sneaker’, you may have by now noticed that when you are around your child, they become clingy and suspicious of your every move especially when you make moves to leave the room. This is because they have become accustomed to you disappearing and not showing up for (in their eyes) a very long long long long long time. Remember that unlike us adults, children have no concept of time.
To explain it simply, when you sneak off your child thinks you’re are still around somewhere. After a while, they start looking for you. When they can’t find you, they get upset.
We at the Daycare encourage caregivers to always say “goodbye, see you later”. Though the kids may not initially understand it, after a while they will. The ‘see you later’ bit gives the kids the assurance that their caregivers will be back later to pick them up. Eventually, the child becomes aware that they have been left behind for some time and will be collected later in. When you pick them up, remind them that you always come back and praise them for staying the day.
- Be consistent: Try to stick to a routine.
Children need routine to thrive. When routine is created and adhered to, they prosper. When the routine is broken, chaos prevails. As Caregivers at the Daycare, Mama Mungai and I witness a lot of this. Many parents assume that since the Daycare is not formal school, they can work with a haphazard schedule for their child’s attendance. Unless there is very good reason, we strongly advise against this. This is because your child gets accustomed to the day to day routine created at the Daycare and they come to expect it. The moment this is withdrawn, they are lost. They then begin to get accustomed to the routine created in the new environment where they are. When the child resumes the Daycare program, do remember to be patient and give them time to adjust.
Whether you are dropping your child off at the Daycare or for the day with Cucu, the above tips should be helpful. The good news is separation anxiety lasts for a short while. Within no time the kids will be off to college and it’ll be us undergoing separation anxiety 😉