Leaving our sons at the church nursery or Mother’s Day Out program when they were being held by the caregiver – crying, hollering, “Mama or Dada”, arms straight out towards us, has got to be one of the hardest things we have done as parents. Chris and I have been on a rollercoaster ride when it comes to the separation anxiety topic.
If you’ve been there, then you know it’s heart-wrenching! What I want you to know is that there is hope. Kids get through it, and eventually, they won’t want to leave when you come to pick them up. In the meantime, there are some simple things that you can do to make the transition easier.
Separation Can Make Parenting Hard
We’ve experienced separation anxiety with both of our children. They both cried at church nursery drop off, Mother’s Day Out dropoff and whatever else they attended.
Our second child, Luke, has a scream that can be heard from the nursery to the worship center. If we put him down, he would wrap around our leg and stick to us like a tick.
When we would pick him up, his face would be spotted red and he would be doing that sniffling thing every minute or less for like an hour. That sniffle thing really got to Chris and my heartstrings!
Chris and I would lie awake and contemplate what we thought was best. Leave them or not. We would talk to other parents who experienced separation anxiety, and we would read experts advice.
We would get a game plan and get thrown a curveball by one of our boys at the next drop off. I’m pretty sure becoming hermits crossed both our minds!
After 6 years of separation anxiety experience, I’ve learned…
Overall, the articles I read say that it is very normal for children to cry at drop-off. Do not think there is anything wrong with your family if your child is the only one crying. In fact, be proud of the bond you have with your child and don’t compare your family with other families.
Time and patience are the key factors. 9 times out of 10 the child will quit crying before 5 minutes is up, and they will quit crying altogether the more they stay with this caregiver and form a bond.
I found that parents need to make sure they are not giving off any anxious vibes. For instance, I really had to keep this in check because I was a crier until first grade, so I had a lot of anxiety that my kids would take after me. Some of my teachers were less than adequate teachers, and I am paranoid the same could happen to my children. I have to pray for myself that I don’t pass my worries on to them!
Create a Goodbye Routine That Is Non-Negotiable
Without a doubt, we often dealt with some of the church nurseries and MDO caregivers took the “rip off the band-aid” approach. There were times we weren’t even done saying goodbye to our kid and the caregiver was hauling him away screaming and crying.
Importantly, what I quickly learned about this is NO, NO and NO! Do not let a caregiver take over the situation unless you’re laying on the floor crying with your child. Make sure the goodbye routine goes according to your family’s standards.
After Chris and I discussed what was happening to us, we made sure that we did our same goodbye routine at every drop-off and did not let a caregiver impede our family goodbye method. Yes, experts suggest parents say goodbye quickly and go, but they don’t say – caregiver grab the kid and flee. Undoubtedly, be sure you create a consistent goodbye routine and stand your ground.
Psychologists say that you never flee without a goodbye. Why? If your child turns around and you’re gone, you are breaking trust! Not worth it.
Related Articles: Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder
20 Drop-Off Habits That Ease Separation Anxiety
- First of all, you have a discussion the day beforehand, even with 1-year-olds, that they will be staying somewhere tomorrow. Show your child pictures of the place if it is online. Describe getting ready, dropping them off, what they’ll do while you’re gone, all the way to pick up. That way, there are no surprises.
- Next, you want to facilitate your toddler’s bonding with the caregiver.
- Remember to discuss in advance with the caregiver what she can do to comfort the child.
- Start with short drop-offs.
- Develop a goodbye routine.
- Similarly, Create an I Love You signal to do as you leave.
- In addition, be sure to leave the child with a comfort object.
- Don’t sneak out! Don’t leave without saying goodbye.
- Keep goodbyes pleasant and brief.
- Prepare yourself for some crying. Remember that this change will help your child adapt to different social situations.
- With this in mind, parents should stay calm, smile and not pass on anxious energy.
- Help your toddler learn that parents return. Reading books about separation anxiety really help with this.
- Don’t be late for pick up. Come back when you say you are. Keep trust.
- Arrive early for pick-up.
- Ask the teacher how the rest of the day went.
Praise your child’s efforts. Even the smallest accomplishments.
- Discuss your child’s emotions with your child when at home.
- Importantly, listen to your child’s feelings about dropoff. Never dismiss their feelings or tell them how they feel. Show empathy and respect.
- Read books about separation and drop off. Have a discussion about what you read and use ideas from the books.
- When discussing school, only talk about school and the employees in a positive manner in front of your child and in earshot. This is huge! If you do this one, you are shooting yourself and your child in the foot. Your child will wonder why you would leave them with someone you would speak of in such a manner.
Call to Action
In conclusion, you must do what works for your family. All of the drama and stress makes the whole family dread drop-offs, so make a plan.
Moreover, once we changed our behavior, our thoughts and feelings changed. If you want to feel calm, act calm. You can’t wait for your thoughts and feelings to change, you need to change your behavior first. The kids catch on and the crying will slow over time.
Ultimately, your child will overcome separation anxiety. Use the tips and resources to aid your family to ease into dropoff stress. Above all, remember that you are not alone and this behavior is very normal. Your child is behaving in this manner because this is what children do. Don’t take it personally or treat it as an emergency. Just be supportive, and find another adult to support you.
**There are two Daniel Tiger Episodes that focus on separation anxiety: Daniel Goes to School and Daniel’s Babysitter. Watch these with your child and discuss how Daniel handled the separation and what your family’s takeaway will be from Daniel’s experiences.
Books to Help Children With Separation Anxiety:
Additionally, I have bought a lot of books on separation anxiety. I like to read about separation anxiety with my children. As a result, it is a segue into a conversation about how they feel at drop-off rather than bringing it up out of the blue. These are our favorites:
The Plush Chester is a Good Object to Leave with the Child or in the Backpack
If you have a tip or a book I didn’t list that helps with separation anxiety, please share in comments. If you have experience with separation anxiety that you’d like to share, please put in comments. I’d love to hear from you!
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Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours! Remember to have fun, laugh and give God the glory! I love you! SS