It can be distressing for both you and your child when you go to leave them with a nanny or carer for the first time. Very often, a child can get overcome with emotion when their parent goes to say goodbye, and seeing this is difficult for any mum or dad. However, it’s perfectly natural for your youngster to feel anxious, and in most cases, these feelings fade over time.
Separation anxiety disorder affects children at different ages, but it usually begins to show signs at around eight months when your child understands that you leave but is unsure whether you’ll come back. The condition typically displays itself through crying, tantrums and clinginess, with the intensity varying from child to child. This kind of behaviour is normal and can go on for weeks or months, sometimes returning when they are starting nursery or preschool.
Here, Nannies Matter takes a look at some techniques that can be used to help ease the stress and anxiety of separation when you need to leave them properly to go back to work or do some shopping:
1. Start early
Introducing your child to other people who may be looking after him or her, such as relatives, a nanny or other carer, allows them to get used to not having you around. You could take them for a sleepover at their grandparents, or for an afternoon at a friend’s house. If you’re thinking of using a nanny or other carer, keep it consistent and start off by leaving them in their care for short periods of time and building up from there.
2. Keep goodbyes short
Prolonging your departure from your child can give them a reason to be afraid when you leave. A quick “Bye, see you later” will work wonders, even if you do feel like you’re being insensitive. Additionally, creating a ritual with your child will help take the pressure off you leaving, perhaps use a high five or a kiss on the cheek as a way to mark your departure.
3. Familiarity is key
Whether your child is being looked after in your home or elsewhere, it’s important to keep things as familiar as possible. You could have your nanny come over to your house, or allow them to take their favourite toy with them when they are away from home.
4. Happy body language
Children can sense your feelings, so make sure when you’re leaving them in the care of someone else it’s with confidence. Give them an enthusiastic wave and a big smile as you leave to assure them they can be comfortable with the person they are with.
5. Don’t sneak away
Although a short goodbye is ideal, don’t be tempted to go too far by running away hoping that they’ll be distracted enough to notice that you’ve left. This can actually break your child’s trust in you, making their anxious feelings and abandonment worse. Instead, ask the person you’re leaving them with to distract them once you’ve said your quick goodbye by giving them a toy or playing some music.
6. Don’t give in
Once you’ve gone, stay gone. It’s awfully tempting to linger or return to see how your child is adapting to your departure. Yes, you may be feeling guilty or as pained as your child to being separated from them, however, this can ruin all the hard work you have put in to keep them calm. Most of the time once you have left and they realise that their tears won’t bring you back, a child will stop crying. Also, any good caregiver will be able to calm them down and reassure them, after all that’s what you hired them for.
If you’re really struggling, and need to understand how they are doing, give them a call half an hour after leaving to check if things are okay. Nine times out of ten they will be, and if they weren’t, you would have heard about it.
Most cases of separation anxiety disorder only last a couple of days or weeks, however, if they continue to be distressed or they display increased symptoms, they may need more time to settle in. If this is the case, remain upbeat. It may be embarrassing or annoying having a child crying and clinging to you as you’re trying to leave, but you need to remember that it’s a good thing. They just love you and don’t want you to go.
The better handle you have on this at an early age will make it easier later in your child’s life when you’re leaving them at nursery, preschool or, in some cases, primary school.