How to Manage the Challenges of Separation Anxiety at Child Care

separation anxiety child

It is hard sending your child to child care at the best of times. They are using new skills, forming friendships and developing away from you. Adding into the mix, separation anxiety and child care can be sources of parental angst for even the emotionally strongest of us.

If this is an issue that you are experiencing, know that you are not alone. Separation anxiety at child care drop-offs is a very real thing that happens to parents around the country. It is not an indication of something that you have done, or are doing wrong, nor is it a sign your child has something wrong. It is as common as it is heartbreaking.

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We’ve all been there, feeling like the worst parent in the world when we drop our screaming, hitting and biting child off with his carers. And then we sit in our car, with tears welling up, feeling like a failure – parenting is overwhelming. It can be a difficult pill to swallow, but there is hope.

What is Separation anxiety?

Research indicates that separation anxiety at child care drop off is a normal phenomenon and not an indication of anything wrong with either parent or child. It is a normal fear of being away from parents or regular carers, and you are NOT a monster for leaving your child if you have to work, rest or study. This is a completely typical response and, thankfully, it’s one that generally goes away over time.

kindergarten separation anxiety

Separation anxiety typically begins at about eight months old and continues through to toddler-hood. Early childhood will see this behaviour (for the most part) cease as your child grows in confidence and understanding that you will return. That being said, it’s not unusual to see this behaviour continue in prep or year one.

Again – there is nothing wrong with you or your child. It’s a natural, if upsetting, response and it’s one that will hopefully ease with a little work. Consider investigating a theory called the Circle of Security to find out about the ways that your child navigates the world around them with you as their constant centre.

What Can I Do as a Parent?

Dreading the child care drops off? Here are a few tips that might help you.

Let your child know when you are leaving, where you are going and when you will be back. Start this as early as you can. Sneaking off or slipping away will shock and startle your child – be honest and kind about your need to leave (wherever you may be going) and work with your child to increase their understanding.

See if you can engage your child in a distracting activity before you leave. Sit with them to do a puzzle. Ask the carers for assistance so you can gradually depart while they are engaged in an activity.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but it will be easier on your child if you leave quickly and don’t ‘draw out’ the goodbye process. Hopefully, your child will settle as they begin to play and interact with the toys and children around them.

Watch how you respond emotionally. Maintain a demeanour of calm and peace. You may be crying on the inside, but it does not have to show on your face. Channel that sadness and sense of desperation down into yourself and put your best foot forward in showing your child that everything is calm and fine. Remember to reassure them that you will return and tell them about the fun activities you have planned upon pick up.

Consider leaving your child with a comforter. Get your scent onto it, play with it at home and then send it into child care with them. Word to the wise – make sure you get double-ups at the kids’ shop because you never know what state it may come home in!

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Remember – You’ve Got This!

No one said this was easy but rest assured in the knowledge that you are not the only parent facing this daunting task. Work hard with your child and talk about child care at home in a positive, productive way and watch them navigate this troubling time and come out the other end with smiles on their faces.

Sandra Sacco is a mother and owner of Little Fenix; a whimsical kids toy store with two Melbourne locations and an online store. Little Fenix specializes in kids clothes, toys, gifts and everything in between.

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