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Dealing with Separation Issues

Whether you’re going on a date night with your spouse or you’re returning to work after staying home with your little one for some period of time, you may find your child is crying and acting unwilling to let you go.  How do you help your child through this separation anxiety? 

1. Choose a babysitter that your child knows and is comfortable with. For example, you may want to have your child be present during babysitter interviews. You can observe how the babysitter candidates interact with your child and an initial connection can develop before your child is alone with the babysitter. If your child is old enough, your child may actively participate in the selection of his new babysitter.

2. Choose a babysitter that will be an enduring presence in your child’s life. Your child will likely develop a bond with his babysitter, and if the same person babysits him year after year, a sense of security and comfort will develop.

3. Choose to keep your child in a familiar environment. Rather than taking him to the home of a babysitter he just met, consider having the babysitter come to your home. For your child, and for most of humanity, there is comfort in familiarity.

4. Choose your departure times wisely. If he is hungry or needing a nap, or if he is experiencing stress or restlessness for any reason, he will be more prone to separation anxiety than if you departed after nap and snack time, for example.

5. Develop a consistent routine that your child can rely on. For example: your babysitter arrives; you hug and kiss your little one; tell him where you will be, when you will be back, and that you love him and look forward to seeing him when you return home; you provide relevant information to your babysitter; and then you depart. (No sneaking out when your child is not looking.) If your child comes to know that this is the routine, a sense of security develops. (Note: if you deviate from your routine, his confidence may be shaken. You can minimize this to some degree by explaining to him what the deviation is and why it exists. For example, if you are running late in returning home, you can call home, speaking with both the babysitter and your child, to let them both know of the revised return time and the reason for it.)

6. Be empathetic but firm. As you prepare your child for each babysitter visit that may generate separation anxiety, acknowledge how difficult it is for him and remind him how brave/strong/independent he is. Remind him of other things he has done which fit the descriptive(s) you have used. Draw a parallel between his situation and how he thinks his hero (a fictional or real character that he esteems) would handle the situation. Do not make fun of or punish him for his feelings. Also, do not attempt to bribe him out of his feelings.

7. Stay away in progressively longer periods of time. It is recommended that you begin using a babysitter before your child is six months old. When you first use a babysitter, plan a brief outing. Go out for dinner with your spouse and return within two hours. As your child adapts to being babysat, you can increase the amount of time you spend away. So, where you may use a babysitter for date nights virtually from the time he was a few months old, you may, perhaps, have a full-time nanny when you return to work full-time by the time you return to work (which you timed with his entry into kindergarten).

8. Make sure that you exhibit love for your child as soon as you return home (or as soon as he wakes up after you return home). Tell your child that you missed him. Ask him how he spent his time while you were apart.

By consistently employing these strategies, you can successfully ease your child through his separation anxiety . . . and you and your child can more effectively cope throughout this phase as well.

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