At some point, all parents will need to leave their child in the care of someone else, and most parents must do so on a regular basis. When a baby is very young, the transition from parent to caregiver is typically smooth, but as the baby gets a bit older, they may object to leaving mum or dad. Separation anxiety is a perfectly normal developmental marker, but it can be a difficult thing for both children and their parents.
Typically, you will notice the first phase of separation anxiety when your baby is anywhere from 6 to 12 months old. Although some babies get beyond this bout of separation anxiety quickly, many take several months to separate comfortably again. A baby who had been quite content to go with a trusted caregiver may now cling to a parent, refusing to let go. As difficult as this can be for parents, most daycare providers will recommend that you give your child a quick hug and kiss and then say your goodbyes. Prolonging the emotional episode will only give your baby time to get increasingly upset. In most cases, the baby will calm immediately after you are gone, but will have a difficult time while you are in sight.
Just when you think that you are in the clear, most kids experience a second round of separation anxiety at about 18 months of age. Unfortunately, this can mean that the break between the two stretches of difficult goodbyes may be quite short. The same recommendations hold true for this second phase of separation anxiety. A cheerful, but quick departure will allow your child to recover quickly and get on with their day.
Object permanence is a term meaning the ability to remember people and objects, even when they are not seen. Early in life, babies are only intellectually aware of people and things while they are present. When you go into another room, for example, your baby has no concept of you. As they mature, however, your baby will remember you when you leave the room and will object to your departure. At this stage, they understand that you have left but do not yet comprehend the notion that you will return. Looking at it from this perspective, it’s easy to understand their very vocal objections! This display of object permanence is evidence that your child is developing normally and should be looked at as a positive milestone.
There are things that you can do to help your child understand departures and returns, making it easier for them to cope with their new feelings. Some parents allow their child to bring a comfort item, such as a favorite blanket. Also, games of peek-a-boo are helpful in showing your baby that you can be unseen, but right back. Babies not only find this game fun, but playing it repeatedly will help your baby to understand “disappearing” and coming back. Another good game is “where’s baby?” in which you briefly cover the baby’s head with a lightweight cloth and then ask, “Where’s baby?” Once you pull off the cloth you can happily exclaim, “There you are!” which will bring about giggles. After a while, you will notice that your baby will initiate these games with you, making it clear that they are beginning to understand and accept the idea that even when they don’t see you, you will be coming back.
If your little one is having difficulty as you drop them off with a caregiver, you can practice at home to make the morning transition easier. Babies understand your words long before they can speak, so be sure to talk to your baby and explain things that you’d like them to understand. Whenever you leave the room, tell your baby that you’ll be right back. In the beginning, you can peek around the corner and give your baby a cheerful “hello!” Gradually increase the time that you are out of the room before reappearing so that your baby becomes comfortable with your absence.
The Best Goodbyes
No matter how much preparation you do, there will likely be times when your baby will not want you to leave them. For most parents, though, it is necessary to leave the baby, so finding the best way to do so is imperative. Never sneak away while your child is distracted — to do so will cause them to become more anxious whenever you are out of their line of sight. Instead, say your goodbyes and assure your child that you will be coming back to pick them up. If you are feeling a bit anxious and sad about separating, try not to show those emotions to your child. Remain upbeat and enthusiastic to make the transition easier for your baby.