Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development. Although children can experience separation anxiety at any age in the early years, it is most common in children between one and three years of age. Separation anxiety can be challenging and stressful for children, parents, and caregivers, but with the right tools, you can help families navigate and ease the burden of separation anxiety. In the following guide, we discuss several ways you can alleviate separation anxiety as a childcare provider.
Know Your Role
First, it’s important to know your role. Parents ultimately take on the primary role in handling their child’s separation anxiety, and each family will walk through this process differently. However, you can take on a supportive role and encourage parents in their efforts to ease the pain of separation in their young child. Your supportive role is an essential part of parents learning how to entrust their child into the capable hands of a caregiver, as well as the child learning that he or she will be okay without Mommy or Daddy with them. By offering support, encouragement, and practical suggestions, you can make this obstacle easier on the families you serve.
Encourage Good-Bye Rituals
One of the ways you can help families overcome separation anxiety is by encouraging a good-bye ritual. Some childcare providers have a special window designated for blowing kisses and waving good-bye to parents. Others encourage parents to use special good-bye words that create a bonding moment between parent and child. It can take several weeks to establish a good-bye ritual, but having one may be especially helpful for easing separation anxiety.
Make It Short and Sweet
How long parents and children take to say good-bye at drop-off time is ultimately up to the parents, but you can encourage them to make it short and sweet. Prolonging the good-bye and sticking around only delays the inevitable, and the child can become emotionally exhausted as they anticipate the eventual departure of the parent. This can make the anxiety worse and the child more difficult to calm down. The shorter the good-bye, the better.
You want children to learn that daycare is actually a fun place to be! Use distractions upon the child’s arrival to help them adjust to their new surroundings. Show the child a toy you think he may like. Carry the toddler to the window overlooking the playground. Describe what a fun day you will have together. These comfort measures may provide enough distraction to soften the sting of separation as Mom or Dad says good-bye.
Suggest a Comfort Object
A special stuffed animal, blanket, or toy which the child brings to daycare and keeps with her at all times can help her carry a little piece of “home” and “Mommy and Daddy” with her throughout the day. Parents can send their child to daycare with love and kisses shared with a favorite comfort object. Having such an item handy can also make nap times easier!
Communicate with Parents
As we have already discussed, separation anxiety is tough on everyone—the child, parents, and caregiver. Keep the lines of communication open with parents during this challenging time. Be available for parents who call to check in to see how their child is doing. Be honest with them about how everything goes after drop-off time. Many times, a parent who agonizes over the possibility of their child being unable to calm down without them is comforted to know the crying stopped a minute or two after Mom or Dad left.
Emphasize a Morning Routine
Again, parents will need to take the initiative with this one, but you can encourage them to establish a morning routine before daycare. Children thrive on routines, so the more parents can create a predictable morning routine, the easier it will be to make the transition from home to daycare with less tears and trauma. Suggest a regular routine for bedtime and wake-up, breakfast and getting ready, morning quality time between parent and child, and drive time to daycare. It can really help children who find childcare a “shock” to become more at ease with the change of caregiver.
Finally, one of the best ways you can help families navigate separation anxiety is by being positive. Children need their caregivers to exude a friendly, loving, confident, and positive attitude that demonstrates safety, warmth, and nurture. Help little ones and their parents take your lead by showing them “Everything is okay here, and we are going to have a great day.” Emotions are contagious, and many times a child will mirror what he observes in the adults around him. Encourage parents to do the same to help emphasize a positive experience for all.
We hope these practical suggestions will help you and the families you serve navigate the normal phase of separation anxiety at your early learning center.
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