Separation Anxiety: Not your Child’s, Yours!
As a woman with 8 children I can tell you that the evolution of being a parent contains many events that repeat themselves. Having children at different stages of development meant that I tackled developmental hurdles like a juggler on a tightrope attached to moving cars. I can tell you this though, there are certain feelings that come up over and over again, and separating from your children – be it for child care, sleepover camp, or university – always feels the same.
For parents, leaving a child for the first time – for instance their first day at child care- can seem a daunting, emotional, and guilt-ridden experience. It’s actually quite similar to the feeling parents may get when they send their child off to university. How will they adjust? Will they feel abandoned? Will they feel scared? Will the child experience anxiety?
There is good news! While children may feel initial anxiety, they almost always capitalize on the new found freedom to make friends, learn new skills, and mature as individuals.
Parents, in the meantime, are left wondering and stressing if they’ve made the right decision, guiltily taking an uninterrupted shower or returning to a career that was previously on hold in lieu of parental responsibilities.
Remember this: you too deserve the time to pursue your interests. The same freedom that children need in order to form social bonds and learn to explore their imaginations lurks in the mind of the parent, like a long-forgotten friend begging to be taken out for a night on the town. Or, back to work, or even to the grocery store. We all have friends that have a weird affinity for grocery shopping for hours… but, I digress.
While your child may experience some separation anxiety, there are things you can do as a parent to ease both your experiences with the first day of child care. For a couple weeks prior to the big day, tell your child about the adventures and fun times he or she will have at child care, maybe even relive your own "going to school" experiences. Visit the centre in an organized manner at least five times prior to the first day.
We call this a "transition plan".
Stay with your child for progressively longer periods, even leaving the room at times to familiarize your child with the feeling of being alone with the caregiver. And finally, do not fret and worry if the child cries. Most children will forget the anxiety once distracted, as little as five or ten minutes after you leave.
And remember this is a natural progression in the relationship between you and your child. Knowing that you return, every day, will strengthen the trust and bond your child feels with you. Plus, a little extra free time never hurt anyone, learn to enjoy it!