Let’s face it, dropping your child off to be cared for by someone other than you is never easy, but it is even more difficult when they are going through a separation anxiety phase. In my almost fourteen years working in childcare settings, I’ve been witness to many of these phases. It seems that most kiddos go through one or more separation anxiety phases in their first few years.
Here are a few tricks and tidbits that I have observed through the years that may help you and your child through what can be an emotional time. If you are going to be starting your child at a new daycare or with a new sitter, schedule times to have them come with you to see the environment, meet the people that will be caring for them, and maybe even meet a few other children there.
If you are able, start their time away from you at daycare in short, a few hours here and there, increments to warm them up to being at a new place and away from their primary caregiver. Tell them that they will be going to or are on their way to daycare so that it is not a surprise at drop off. Establishing quick, consistent goodbyes is incredibly important. Maybe you have a certain phrase you say every time, or a secret handshake that is just yours. Keeping it short, sweet, and consistent is key to a smooth transition.
Always be honest about when you will be back to get them. Saying things like “I will be right back” or “It is just for a little bit” if that is not the realistic amount of time they will be at daycare can leave them anxious the longer time goes by that you are not back. If you know that you will be back around a certain time, relate it to something they do throughout their daily schedule. Examples of this can be “I will be back after you have your second snack today” or “you will get to play for just a little bit after nap and then I’ll be here to get you”.
In my experience, separation anxiety is more emotional, long term, for the parents. Drop off can be so emotional when your little is crying and clinging to you, but please know that burst of emotions is almost always short term. Babies, toddlers, and older children alike are usually calmed down and playing within a few minutes of drop off even if they had a difficult time separating. Lastly, know that you are not alone! Most parents go through this. Talk to your friends, relatives, and even your kiddos caregiver about what might help you in your individual situation.