Ways Working Moms Can Ease Child Separation Anxiety
Today, for the first time ever, I left my almost two year old daughter at nursery school for her first day of school. Since it was the first day, once we arrived, I stayed about hour and a half to make sure everything was OK. She seemed to have made the transition nicely, enjoying her “Good Mornings” and “Hellos” with her fellow classmates and teachers. I, on the other hand, felt like my heart was being torn out. I questioned myself, “Is this the right thing for me to be doing this right now?” and “She’s only 1.8 years old, is she too young to start preschool?”
I, with the help of my husband, was able to be a stay at home mom/ PT working mom with my business, for Liah’s almost first two years of life. Now, we both agreed, is time for me to get back into the workforce full-time and Liah start socializing with other children and adults (Liah is an only child). The decision seemed normal and came at the right time as I myself was feeling a little out of sorts not having my professional career as I did previously. SO, with all said and done, why do I feel like my other half is gone? Am I the only parent who has gone through this? Well, apparently, after much Google research, I realized I was not 🙂
So why do it? Why put myself through so much misery?
I come from a very conservative culture. Most women I knew did not have a higher education. However, my father and mother instilled the importance of education very early in my life. My father worked very hard to make sure that I had the opportunities he never had. He himself moved to United States to make sure he had a better life full of opportunities he could not attain in his native country of Colombia. He wanted me to be independent, self-sustaining, and to accomplish whatever I desired in life. Secondly, I don’t think it’s fair to my husband to be the soul ‘breadwinner’ for his family. When I married him, I promised to be his partner in life. Finally, to secure a better future for my daughter I have to make sure we are financially stable, meaning we need both of our working incomes to do so (Did I mention I have student loans?).
In short, I am simply doing what my father did for me.
One thing I have been reading over and over again is that when you take your child to day care, good-byes should be brief, affectionate, and with a clear statement that you will be back. If the caregiver can engage your child with a toy or mirror, it can make your leaving easier. If you are leaving your child at a day-care center, or someplace other than home, the separation will be easier if you spend a few minutes there with your child (and also with the new caregiver). Separation anxiety can make parents feels awful, but know that separation anxiety is a normal stage of development for healthy, secure babies.
Here are some tips I found that may be helpful. I hope this helps as much as it did for me today following my first day of drop-off for my little one <3.
So I don’t get to spend the entire day with my daughter, but when I do, I make sure that every minute counts. I do the best I can do to let my daughter know that she is loved tremendously. To quote Sarah Jessica Parker’s character from her movie ‘I don’t know how she does it’: “The books say that children get over separation anxiety by two years…no age limit is given for mothers”
Use Traditions to Ease Separation Anxiety
Children feel more secure when they know what to expect. Establishing a morning ritual helps them through the transition from home to child care. Leave time for every step, so your child doesn’t feel rushed and stressed. Here’s ours: cuddle in bed together, dress, brush teeth, eat breakfast, drive to school, put backpack in cubby, say goodbye to Mommy and Daddy.
Set a Positive Tone for Separating
It’s remarkable how sensitive children are to our moods. Even a tiny baby can tell when Mama is upset, and often will start to fuss or get anxious. Bigger children may act out or become clingy if their parents seem unhappy or angry.
So the tone you set for saying goodbye will influence whether your child clutches and wails, or runs off happily to play. Smile and speak with a positive inflection, no matter how sad you may feel inside. Remind your child of the fun things he will do during the day.
When you let your own anxiety or unhappiness show through your facial expression or manner, the message your child will hear is: “Mommy thinks something’s wrong with leaving me in child care.” Is it any wonder that he will conclude that he’s not going to be safe and loved without you there?
Make a Clean Break
Similarly, it’s important not to linger when your child is having a hard time separating. If you prolong the goodbye based on how much she screams and cries, you can guarantee that tomorrow she’ll sob harder and longer.
Sure, give an extra big hug and kiss when your kid’s upset, but then detach yourself and give a smiling goodbye. It’s okay to dawdle in the hallway until you hear her cries subside. I always do that, and it’s usually less than a minute of tears.
Make sure you stay out of sight, though. When I drop Liah off at school, I hand her over to her favorite teacher and skedaddle. Sure enough, she stopped crying quickly and I happily headed to the exit. As I passed her classroom I couldn’t resist peeking in — only to make eye contact with my daughter. Predictably, she burst into another round of wails.
Distract Your Child
At the moment of separation, you may be able to distract an infant from being upset. Point to a favorite toy, or ask the teacher to carry her to a window to see birds or trees. Then say goodbye and skedaddle out the door.
With an older child, ask a question about the day’s activities. Remind her of a story she wanted to tell her teacher or one of her friends. Point out that her favorite tricycle is free. Sometimes you can forestall a crying fit by a well-timed distraction.
Decide Whether to Sneak Out
One decision you’ll have to make is whether to sneak away when your child isn’t paying attention. This is a subject of controversy in my own family. My husband sees no problem with it, while I want my daughter to know that I’ll always say goodbye. I don’t want her to worry that I’ll suddenly disappear when she is not looking.
Certainly, I see the benefit of leaving while your child is sleeping or playing with a toy — it lessens the opportunity for a crying fit. But I could never bring myself to do it. I always wanted to be there to know if they were upset, even if I was just eavesdropping outside the door.
Use an Engaging Object or Special Treat
Objects carry power. Plan ahead by asking your child if he wants to bring in a special rock or picture to show his teacher. That can be your distraction ploy at the moment of goodbye.
You may also want to give your kid something from home to carry through the school day. Some ideas: a favorite teddy, a family photo, or a piece of your jewelry. I’m convinced that’s why schools have show and tell (or show and share) — to give children something to clutch instead of Mommy’s hand.
If your child is going through a particularly rough time, think about planning an after-school outing. Whether it’s pizza night or an after-dinner walk to see the fire station, it gives her something to look forward to and talk about during the drop off at child care.
Identify and Avoid Anxiety Triggers
Pay attention to the days when your child has trouble separating. See if there is a common thread that is triggering tears. Make sure you’re not pressured and rushing through the steps of the morning ritual.
Mondays are hard for many households. You may want to give some extra time and affection on the first day of child care after a weekend or vacation.
Enlist Your Child’s Caregiver
The transition to child care is like a football pass. You can set everything up perfectly only to have your child’s caregiver fumble the reception. Make sure the two of you are working together.
If your child is struggling with separation anxiety, ask her caregiver what might help. A plan the two of you agree on will be much easier to implement than something you dream up on your own. If you have success taming separation anxiety, please share your techniques here in our comments section. Have a wonderful weekend everyone! <3
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