separation anxiety
Development

20 tips for separation anxiety

Does your child have separation anxiety? Here’s how to find solutions, and get him on his way to a better good-bye.

Tearful, anxiety-filled goodbyes are common during a child’s earliest years. Around the first birthday, many kids develop separation anxiety, getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else. Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling. A little worry over leaving mum or dad is normal, even when your child is older. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits. However, if anxieties intensify or are persistent enough to get in the way of school or other activities, your child may have separation anxiety disorder. This condition may require professional treatment – but there is also a lot that you as a parent can do to help.

Easing normal separation anxiety in children

For children with normal separation anxiety, there are steps you can take to make the process of separation anxiety easier. Understanding what your child is going through and having a few coping strategies can help both of you get through it.

Being attached is okay

It’s completely okay for your baby to be attached to you and for her to desire your constant companionship. It’s evidence that the bond you’ve worked so hard to create is holding.

You can never give too much love

Don’t worry about spoiling her with love, since quite the opposite will happen. The more that you meet her attachment needs during babyhood, the more confident and secure she will grow up to be.

Give your baby lessons in object permanence

As your baby learns that things continue to exist even when she can’t see them, she’ll feel better about letting you out of her sight. Games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek will help her understand this phenomenon.

Practice separation

Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods and short distances at first.

Don’t sneak away when you have to leave her

It may seem easier than dealing with a tearful goodbye, but it will just cause her constant worry that you’re going to disappear without warning at any given moment. The result? Even more clinginess and diminished trust in your relationship.

Develop a “goodbye” ritual

Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss.

Tell your baby what to expect

If you are going to the store and leaving her at home with Grandma, explain where you are going and tell her when you’ll be back. Eventually, she’ll come to understand your explanations.

Build in time for your baby to get comfortable

Ask a new babysitter to visit your baby several times before leaving them alone for the first time. For your first real outing, ask the sitter to arrive about 30 minutes before you depart so that she and the baby can be well engaged before you step out the door.

Don’t come back

Repeated trips back into the house or daycare centre to calm your baby will make it harder on you, your child, and the caregiver.

Keep smiling

If you’re off to work or an evening out, leave with a smile. Your baby will absorb your emotions, so if you’re nervous about leaving her, she’ll be nervous as well. Your confidence will help alleviate her fears.

Keep familiar surroundings when possible and make new surroundings familiar

Get your childminder to come to your house. When your child is away from home, let him or her bring a familiar object.

Leave without a fuss

Tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, then go – don’t stall.

Schedule separations after naps or feedings

Babies are more susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re tired or hungry.

Don’t take it personally

Many babies go through a stage of attaching themselves to one parent or the other. The other parent (as well as grandparents, siblings and friends) can find this difficult to accept, but try to reassure them that it’s just a temporary and normal phase of development and with a little time and patience, it will pass.

Night-time separation anxiety

Your baby’s fear of being separated from you at night is very real for him, so you’ll want to do your best to keep the hours preceding bedtime as nurturing and peaceful (and fun) as possible.

In addition:

  • Spend some extra cuddle time with your baby before bed by reading, snuggling, and softly singing together.
  • If your baby cries for you after you’ve put him to bed, it’s fine to go to him – both to reassure him and to reassure yourself that he’s okay. But make your visits brief and boring so he’ll learn to fall back to sleep without a lot of help from you. Eventually, he’ll be able to fall asleep on his own.

Niamh O’Reilly is a a fully qualified and highly experienced nursery nurse. with 15 years’ experience in various sectors of the childcare industry, www.thenursery.ie

Separation anxiety can be a bit of a shock to the system for parents. Dealing with it and NOT ignoring it, is the best thing we can do for children.

Small babies

Pre-empt the early stages of separation anxiety by having regular carers in their lives. Don’t have too many long goodbyes; they will sense your unease and will react accordingly. Fake it if you have to!

Toddlers

Some children only start to exhibit signs of anxiety at this stage. Always say goodbye. Don’t sneak away from them; it’s simply not fair. They know by now that you will be coming back to them but they also know that a lot of noise will get a reaction so they will probably throw in some drama for effect. That’s not to say their feelings aren’t real though. Acknowledge this, and remind them that you will be back. Keep your promises.

Pre-school and school going kids

This is a stage where separation anxiety mixes with a touch of nervousness – for both parents and children. Keep all your routines as normal, especially bedtime as it is the anchor of your day. Explain that it’s okay to feel nervous. Change is tough for everyone so have a little extra one-on-one time with them to help build their confidence.”

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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ASK JESSICA

Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.