When our babies begin to experience separation anxiety, times of separation can become difficult. This could be when they cry and don’t want to be left in a room alone at bedtime, when we get a babysitter and they’re upset that we’re leaving them or when we drop them at daycare and it is heart wrenching for everyone. For Part 1, we’ll address daytime separations such as drop-off at school or daycare.
When my daughter first started having trouble with drop-offs, it seemed that the expectation was to let the caregiver rip the crying child from your arms and let the child calm down after you leave. Perhaps for children with more easygoing temperaments, this would work, but for my daughter, it did not. It caused her to associate these separations and drop-offs with MORE anxiety the next time! That is certainly not what I was going for. I wanted her to feel increasingly comfortable in the care of others.
I had an AHA! moment when I discovered Dr. Deborah MacNamara’s strategies for saying goodbye. She and Dr. Gordon Neufeld talk a lot about the importance of attachment for times of separation. Instead of forcing a child to focus on the separation, you can, alternatively, put emphasis on your connection in order to reassure your child. Their emotional connection to you provides them with security and, when they are away from you, they can be taught to hold on emotionally.
Dr. MacNamara suggests that we can help our children separate from us by:
Making sure they are cared for by people they are attached to
Drawing attention to the next point of connection instead of the separation
Giving them something to hold onto that represents our connection
In her infographic, Dr. MacNamara provides 20 examples of strategies you can use to help your child with daytime separation, including: giving your child an item to hold onto that will remind them of you, telling them about something fun you will do together when you pick them up, sending a family photo that can be put up at school or daycare, putting a note in their pocket or lunchbox, blowing kisses into their pockets and telling them the kisses will be there in case they miss you...and much more! You can even come up with your own ideas. The goal is to talk to your child about the emotional connection you share, your presence with them during the day, how you are connected to them when apart, and what they have to look forward to when you pick them up!
So as you prepare for new daytime separations this fall, think ahead about ways to make your connection tangible for your child. Print a family photo, cut out a paper heart they can take with them, make some matching bracelets or think up some fun after school/daycare activities.
I’m guilty of preparing one strategy and then, if it doesn’t work, feeling defeated and not being able to think of another strategy on the spot! This fall, I plan to be prepared with more than 1 strategy for bridging to the next connection. Even if separation is hard, and it probably will be, I’ll be equipped with many strategies to reassure my daughter and help us hold on while apart. After using these strategies over a period of time, I know that she will become increasingly comfortable, because we’re focusing on making our connection stronger, even when we’re apart.
Photo: Tatiana Syrikova
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