When it happens for the first time, separation anxiety can be cute and make you feel special. You can see that your baby wants you and you only, and your heart melts. But by the time your baby turns into a toddler, it has long become tiring and frustrating. You hate to see your toddler upset, but you have to work, run errands or simply take time out for yourself. Here are some ways to deal with separation anxiety gently, so that you can make time apart as easy as possible both for yourself and your child.
Let your toddler get familiar with the caregiver
It’s completely normal that your toddler doesn’t want to stay with strangers and you wouldn’t want it any other way. Whenever possible, choose a caregiver the child knows well or allow time for them to get to know each other before you go. If your toddler is starting day care, come in a couple of times beforehand, so that your child gets familiar both with the caregivers and the new space where she’ll be spending her time.
Talk to your toddler about what’s happening
Explain to her that you’re leaving and tell her when you’re going to be back. Your toddler doesn’t understand the concept of time, so to give her an idea how long you’re going to be away for, tell her what’s going to happen in the meantime. For example, “You’ll play with Grandma, have lunch, then you’ll have a nap and I’ll be back”.
It can be tempting to sneak out while your child is occupied and avoid the tears, but don’t do it. Next time she’ll be watching you like a hawk and you’ll have a harder time separating. More importantly, you’ll be breaking her trust. Her world will look unsafe and unpredictable – one moment mummy is there, the next moment she’s gone.
Allow your child to express her feelings and don’t give in to the temptation to show anger, irritation or that you’re upset, too. By staying calm and loving, you’re showing your child that you’re accepting her just the way she is, both of you are safe and everything is ok.
Gradually increase the time away
If you can, start small to get your child more comfortable and reassure her that you always come back. If your toddler is starting day care, have a few short days and pick her up early. As she relaxes, you can increase the time you spend away without causing more anxiety.
Leave a comfort object
Toddlers can take great comfort in a favourite toy, blanket or something that reminds them of you – a scarf or a shirt.
Give lots of attention when you return
Your toddler will running low on love by the end of her time without you and she’ll need her love cup refilled. Read a book together, do some craft or something else your child loves to do and give lots of cuddles.
As difficult as it may be, your toddler’s separation anxiety is a normal part of her development and she will outgrow it eventually.
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