Having cared for many children over the years, I have seen the tears that so often precede and follow the departure of a parent. It can start off small; kids pulling you by the hand to come back inside. Then the fuss starts when you explain to them that you really have to go. You might have to pry a child off of you if you’re running late as you listen to them wail through the door closing behind you. An awesome way to start your day…or errand…or evening out, with feelings of guilt, worry, frustration and even anger following you out into the world. And once you’re gone, your child usually calms down, but what are these big spectacles getting them? Even if they’re playing nicely 10 minutes after you leave, wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t happen in the first place?
So how do we ease separation anxiety? Here are a couple of thoughts.
1. Don’t let your kids hold you hostage (and teach them patience at the same time)
When you’re home, if your kids have access to you at all times, then it will be difficult for them to transition to not having access to you when you leave. If demands of attention and playtime are always met on the kids’ schedules, then they will come to expect it when they want it and will be even more disappointed and confused when they can’t have it.
Teaching your children that sometimes they’ll have to wait for your attention or time can help them ready themselves for times when they’ll have to do without you.
a.) ask your child to wait while you finish a task
b.) set the timer for 30 seconds, 1 minute or more depending on their age
c.) when the timer goes off, tell them that you can play for 5 minutes
d.) when 5 minutes is done (maybe you use the timer again), go back to your task
2. Practice saying goodbye through play
I have sent countless children on trips to the moon, to grandma’s, on a train, to Australia and beyond. I tell them that I’ll miss them, but hope they will have fun and ask them to send me a postcard. The hug or high-five that they receive as a “welcome home” from their imaginary trip is always met with a smile. Who doesn’t want a glad greeting upon their return from some faraway land (or from the grocery store)? This helps kids to get in the habit of saying goodbye with a smile on their face as they’re getting used to the idea that either they or you will return soon enough.
3. Don’t sneak away!
Tempting as it may be to sneak out the door when your kids are happily ensconced in another activity, it’s not a good idea. Your kids are having fun until they realize that Mommy or Daddy isn’t there anymore. Then their imaginations can go wild!
Are you lost? Why didn’t you say goodbye? You didn’t even reassure me that you’ll be back soon or that you love me! This just goes to show that I can never take my eyes off of you or you just might disappear!
Sneaking off when they’re not paying attention is not the best way to build trust with your kiddos. And really what you want is for them to trust that you’re going to come back. But it will be hard for them to trust you if you simply vanish without warning.
There are other ways to help your kids deal with their separation anxiety, but these are a good place for parents to start. As always, changing your child’s behavior starts with a change from you. You are the agent of change! So send them to Jupiter and welcome them back with open arms.