10 Simple Solutions for Separation Anxiety
Almost every parent has dealt with some level of separation anxiety—including parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley. That's what prompted her to write her 10th and latest book The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution.
Here, Pantley shares simple ways to help your child learn how to manage emotions, accept new people and places, and thrive when it's time to say bye-bye.
Who knew Baby’s favorite game was his ticket to a lifetime of independence? Peek-a-boo teaches even the youngest children that when people go away, they come back again.
For toddlers, separation games are equally useful. Hide-and-seek anyone?
Let the Baby Be
One trick to nip separation anxiety in the bud—just do nothing. Many parents aren’t aware when a child is trying to separate on his own. “It’s perfectly OK for a child to be alone and to be her own best company,” says Pantley. Let Baby babble in peace, wake up and stare at his toes, or simply watch the sun on the wall. “Don’t feel like you have to rush in or narrate to Baby what’s going on.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice can take many forms. For babies, it can be as simple as quick and gentle transfers from Mom to a caretaker during the day. With repetition, Baby learns that even if Mom leaves, she comes back again. For older kids, try dress rehearsals. “You can pretend that the babysitter is coming. You put on a hat and sunglasses and narrate what’s going to happen, while in character,” says Pantley. “Then your child is warmed up to the situation.”
Stack the Deck
Babysitters and other caretakers need to be special—and alluring. And as such, they should be allowed to bend the rules. If there’s no TV after dinner when Dad is home, guess what? When Grandma’s babysitting, there is. Create extra-special incentives for your little one to connect with someone else.
Know the Routine
“Routine is huge,” says Pantley. If a child knows what comes next, you take away the looming question mark. “They begin to understand, ‘We do this, and then we do our special handshake at the fence, and then Mom comes back after my nap,’” says Pantley. The repetition is comforting.
On the other hand, she explains, “A child who never knows what to expect can become apprehensive.”
Know When to Say When
“Baby’s having a hard time separating? “[P]op her in the carrier and take her with you,” says Pantley. How can you tell if she just needs a nudge, or needs to stay close for a little while longer? “What you want to look for is your child’s overall personality. Is she eating well? Sleeping well??” explains Pantley. “If she’s struggling and needs to be rescued, go to her. It’s OK to try again tomorrow, next week, or next month.”
Keep Calm and Carry On
“Don’t sensationalize—even if your child does,” says Pantley. If your child is having a meltdown at daycare, take a deep breath. Chances are, you’ve done your homework, you’ve chosen good caretakers, and your child is well cared for. “Don’t be taken in by your child’s emotional outburst,” says Pantley. “Outwardly, you need to show that you’re relaxed and calm.”
When encouraging your toddler, Pantley suggests that you talk about other successes. “Remember when you went to Grandma’s and you had fun?” The confidence that you project is incredibly important, she says. You little one trusts you and looks to you for clues. So project positivity at every step.This works for babies as well. Quick, cheerful goodbyes from the very start help establish the right tone for future partings.
Sometimes the problem isn’t your child—it’s you! Parental separation anxiety is real and far more common than you’d think. “It’s normal to feel sad when you’re parting from your child,” says Pantley.
If you’re the culprit, remember to “project positivity” and “keep calm and carry on.” These tips work for all ages!
Use a Little Magic
When all else fails—there’s the magic bracelet, a variation on the “lovey.” “It’s a piece of Mom or Dad that a child can take with them wherever they go,” says Pantley. “Kids like a tangible object to remind them of the feelings that they should be having.” The magic bracelet is what did the trick with Pantley’s youngest, Coleton, who suffered from great separation anxiety when going to kindergarten. “He was my first guinea pig,” she says.
About Elizabeth Pantley
“Separation anxiety is a sign of love, security, and bonding,” says Pantley, “But that doesn’t mean we should always accept it.”
For a wealth of more information, and your own magic bracelet, check out No Cry Separation Anxiety Solution: Gentle Ways to Make Good-bye Easy from Six Months to Six Years.
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