It’s the most heart breaking thing when you have to leave for work or drop your child at daycare/ school and they don’t want to say goodbye.
You have to kind of prise them off while they scream and cry and hold their arms out to you. And instead of holding them tight like you want to, you have to let somebody else and walk away…
I’ve seen this scene play out hundreds of times over the years in my work with young children, and experienced it many times with my own boys too.
What I’ve found to be the KEY to reducing separation anxiety is preparation.
Children thrive on a predictable daily rhythm. They like to know what to expect. It helps them to feel secure and build trust in the big world around them.
Even though it might seem easier to avoid the meltdowns at home by not mentioning daycare until you’re ready to leave, it actually makes things a lot harder for your child.
Talk about going to daycare as much as possible (especially before the first day!). This will give your child lots of opportunities to process their feelings about going to daycare and an understanding of what they can expect to happen during their day.
Ideally, let your child know the night before (maybe in bed) that tomorrow they’ll be going to daycare/ school etc. They might have some feelings come up around this immediately: sad, powerless, scared, anxious and be ready to express some tears to release these feelings.
Instead of trying to distract them from their tears or cheer them up, remind yourself that now is the perfect time to listen to these feelings, while you’re not rushed and needing to leave. Right now, you can stay with your child and be with their feelings as long as they need you.
Let them express (cry) without trying to distract them or cheer them up. It’s ok for your little one to feel sad that they can’t spend the day with you. They need you to listen, not talk them out of being sad. In fact, when you distract them from their true feelings, they will only suppress them to be dealt with later, most likely at drop off time. (You can read more about holding space for your child’s feelings here)
When your child is going through a period of separation anxiety try to give yourself an extra half hour to get ready in the morning. The last thing anyone needs is to feel stressed, anxious or rushed. And remind your child first thing about the plan for the day. Again, if they have feelings come up, you have a whole half hour to sit, listen and comfort without feeling rushed.
Having their day planned in a way they don’t particularly like can feel disempowering to your child.
Try to give them back a sense of control, autonomy and power through letting them make some choices as you get ready.
A choice out of 2-3 things is enough, more becomes overwhelming.
“Would you like apple or orange slices in your lunchbox?”
“Would you like to wear your blue shirt or red?”
“Would you like a jumping race to the car or a piggy back?”
1. Make space to listen to your child’s feelings about separation at a relaxed time
2. Let them know what to expect for the day ahead
3. Give them a sense of control, autonomy and power through offering choices
Do all three and goodbyes are sure to be a lot happier for you all!
I’d love to hear your experiences with this, please share with me in the private Lightfilled Parenting circle here
B.Ed Early Childhood
Certified Lightworker Practictioner
PS we talk more about holding space for our children’s feelings in my online program Emotional Balm