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How To Handle Separation Anxiety in Children
Sadie Prise
How To Handle Separation Anxiety in Children

If you are a working parent, you likely had a little anxiety yourself when you had to leave your little one with their care provider for the first time. We've all been there! The first few times can be unsettling but if you have done your research and found a great provider, rest assured - they are in good hands. Check out our latest post on helpful tips to choosing a great care provider. This article on transitioning back to work after maternity leave might also be a helpful one if you are feeling anxiety about that!

I still remember the first time I dropped my son off at daycare. I remember just standing there holding him and not quite sure what to do. The daycare staff was so nice. They offered to take him from me so I could head off to work. I passed him over and just kind of stood there. I didn't know how I was going to bring myself to leave him! I cried the whole way to work and multiple times in the lactation room that day. I checked on him during my lunch hour and he was doing great and enjoying his new friends.

You may have noticed that your baby does just fine when they are held by others or when you leave the room. I always pictured the first daycare drop off to be this horrible mess of tears and crying but it wasn't. My son was just 3 months old when he first started daycare. He did just fine and I was the teary-eyed mess! It wasn't until he reached about the 8 to 9 month age range where he really started experiencing separation anxiety, especially with me.

It was strange because it almost happens overnight. All of a sudden it seemed like my husband and I were the only ones that could hold him. He started acting strange and shy when family would come over and visit. They would try to hold him and he would just stare and start to fuss. We found it odd because they had held him before with no problem. Then we noticed that daycare drop offs started to become difficult. Our son did not want to be put down on the floor to play and when we would leave him to go to work, he would cry. No fun! 

We started doing some research to see if this behavior was normal and what we could do to help him. Thank goodness for the internet! We found all kinds of great explanations of this behavior and helpful tips on what to do about it since, financially, quitting our full time jobs and spending every minute with baby boy isn't an option right now! 

Causes of Separation Anxiety

During the first several months of baby's life, they don't differentiate people who want to hold or play with them. That's why they don't care too much about who is caring for them as long as they are comforted and get their food! I mean, of course they have a special connection with their mother who carried them in the womb and nursed them.

  • They reach a stage in development where they start to differentiate people they are familiar with and "strangers"
  • They start forming emotional bonds with those they are familiar with
  • They start to develop object permanence - they acknowledge when their parent leaves the room and they have the ability to wonder when they will return

Signs of Separation Anxiety

  • Wanting to be held more often
  • Only wanting to be held by parents or caregivers they are very familiar with
  • Crying or whining when a parent leaves the room
  • Staring at "strangers" with a concerned expression
  • Becoming shy around "strangers" (holding onto parent, burrowing head into parent and peeking at the "stranger")
  • Becoming fussy and rushing towards parent when reunited

How Can I Help with Separation Anxiety?

  • Spend time helping them familiarize with new people and environments
  • Send something to daycare that brings them comfort (blanket, favorite toy)
  • Make sure the care provider has detailed information on your child's needs
  • Avoid "sneaking out", instead create a goodbye routine
  • Establish a routine for reuniting with your child

Crying out due to separation anxiety is normal and should never be punished. This is a part of your baby's development. It may not be an easy thing to adjust to, but in time, you can manage it and help them get through it. Set your child up for success by implementing the above tips! 

Telling your care provider that gently rubbing your child's head in a circular motion before they go down for a nap is NOT too much detail! Give them all the details! Tell them everything they need in order to make your baby feel comforted and happy even if it sounds a little ridiculous! 

Allow yourself a few extra minutes during daycare drop off and pick up so that you can establish a transition routine. I will even get down on the floor in my dress pants and introduce some interactive toys to my child so that he can adjust to starting his school day. During daycare pick up, our routine includes me getting down to his level from a few feet away and once he makes eye contact, he happily crawls to me and I give him a big hug. 

If you are going to have friends and family over that want to hold your child, do a slow introduction. Let them stare and be shy for a little bit. Once they sense that you are comfortable with this "stranger" they will begin to open up and be more comfortable as well. Let the person ease into playing with them and interacting. Maybe they could start by handing them one of their favorite toys. Eventually, the child will likely become comfortable and start to play or even let them hold them. If they are still shy, be careful not to force it. It reminds me a lot of trying to pet someone's dog! You first ask the owner, let the dog sniff your hand and then slowly pet their head if you sense they are comfortable with it. 

If your little one is having some serious "stranger danger" moments, don't fret. You don't have to quit your day job so that you can be with them 24/7. Trust me, it's hard - I get it. I don't want to leave my sweet boy as he is crying and reaching for me in desperation. It is not my favorite moment of the day and I get to work and worry! But after using these tips, I was able to have a much more pleasant daycare drop off after only 3 days! It really works. And don't feel guilty! You are going to work so that you can provide an income for you family and support your child.

If you do want to become a stay at home parent, that's fine too. Talk with your partner about your options and finances. I would not recommend, however, being their sole provider and comfort. It is healthy to socialize your child with other trusted adults and baby friends because that will help with their transition into school someday! I felt guilty for a while about having to send my son to daycare but after seeing the extraordinary things he learns each week, I am so happy with our decision! He learns from his friends and gets to do sensory activities each week. He is now going on 9 months old and has hit all major milestones early!

If you would like to know more about this topic or have any questions, please comment or reach out to us through our Contact page or social media platforms. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe to us if you would like to receive updates on new blog posts, new product and special discounts!

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