We feel your pain. The sight of your little one upset as they’re made to let go of your legs is never easy. Separation anxiety is a real and very painful experience for both parent and child. Which is why we’re here to offer expert tips on how to build their confidence and make saying goodbye, whether that’s at nursery, school, or with a relative, easier on the whole family.
Practise separating from the start
If you want to help your child with the process of separation, start early – even before you have any intention of separating with them. Playful games like Peek-a-boo and Hide and Seek are easy, fun ways to allow your baby or toddler to experience small bursts of separation in a situation they know is fundamentally safe.
Day to day, if they’re used to following you around the house and always having you in sight, start to expose them to short sessions of being further away from you (in a child-safe space). Reassure them you’ll be back in one minute, talk to them from the other room and come back with excitement and further reassurance so they learn they can rely on your promise to return.
Make the most of story time
Occupational Therapy & Specialist Teacher, Sarah Billingham of Confident Kids recommends story time as a great opportunity for tackling separation anxiety: “There are so many lovely children’s books out there which explore the issue. Reading stories together about change can be a fun, non-threatening way to help children to begin to think about what the new situation might be like.
"Talking about relatable characters, rather than themselves, may help them to gain some understanding before talking about their own feelings. I recommend ‘I Want My Mummy!’ by Tracey Corderoy.”
Find the right childcare
Whether it’s hiring your first nanny or finding the best school for your kids, the right childcare makes a huge difference when it comes to helping your children separate from you with ease. Talk with other parents to hear some first-hand experiences and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions when you meet new childminders for the first time. The right childcare does more than free up time for other adult priorities; it provides your child with a sense of lifelong confidence.
Sarah continues: “When first introducing your child to a new caregiver or setting, preparation is key. Help them to familiarise themselves by sharing photos and plan some short visits to get your child used to the new people they will be spending time with. When starting a new childcare arrangement, if possible, arrange some settling sessions where you leave your child for short periods initially. This helps your child to understand that they can trust you will be back.”
It’s also important to prepare for pick up. If your child is being picked up by someone other than yourself, make sure they know who will be looking after them. Is it a grandparent one night, but a childminder another? Pictures or a visual timetable can be handy in helping small children without reading skills know what to expect.
Keep familiar surroundings when possible
Trialling a new childminder or nanny? Have them come to your house to keep the surroundings familiar and boost your child’s sense of security. When this isn’t possible, encourage your child to take a much-loved toy or object with them so they have something familiar to relate to when you’re not there.
Send a note or create a love button
If your child is struggling with being apart from you, try a sweet way for your child to remember your love for them. Draw a heart on their hand and your hand to be ‘love buttons’ you can each press to remember each other or, if your child is old enough to read, place a special note in their lunch box or pocket for a quick burst of reassurance when they find it.
Know what’s normal
Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development, beginning around about six months old and often continuing throughout the toddler years. As children get older, separation anxiety is then likely to reappear at times of significant change, such as starting school, moving to a new house or having a new sibling.
Confident Kids founder Sarah Billingham confirms: “For most children, anxiety will ease, and they will settle into the new routine. However,
"if your child’s anxiety persists beyond a few weeks or they are particularly distressed, do feel you can reach out for support."
Chat to your childcare provider, child’s school or health visitor about how they can help or whether there is a service they can refer you to.”
Keep it upbeat!
Lastly, Sarah explains the importance of keeping things positive when it comes to separating from your child. “If you are positive, they are more likely to be positive. Equally if you are feeling nervous or anxious it is likely to rub off on them. You may well be feeling nervous yourself or perhaps struggling with returning to work and leaving your little one. Try to talk about and manage your feelings away from your child – kids often pick up on far more than we think.”
Intentionally keeping your child’s day as calm as possible when facing a new separation is key too. A calm, predictable routine with plenty of connection from primary caregivers will help them feel more secure. Even 5-10 minutes of quality attention and connection from you can be enough to form a secure attachment which allows them to separate without trouble.
Koru Kids are dedicated to finding you the right nanny for your family. Get in touch to start the process and ease everyday life.