Children, particularly infants and toddlers share a special, nurturing relationship with their primary caregiver or mother. That is why, it often is common for a child to become nervous or display anxiety when mother or the primary caregiver is not close to her/him. But for some children, this anxiety may take an extreme form where they develop unrealistic worry that something bad will happen to the parent, or that the caregiver will never come back. They may display excessive amount of trauma and significant stress, may refuse to go to school, may fear being alone and have nightmares. Some of them may resort to temper tantrums or pleading. These are the signs of separation anxiety disorder or SAD among children. This disorder can be quite traumatic for the child as well as the parent. Therefore, you must follow certain strategies to deal with SAD, anxiety, nervousness and ease the symptoms of SAD in your child.
Use traditions to ease separation anxiety
One of the simplest and most effective way of dealing with SAD is to develop goodbye rituals for your child. Either because of past experiences or over protectiveness from parents, a child may feel anxious when the parent leaves. S/he may display excessive worries that the parent might not return. Therefore, you must develop a ‘goodbye’ ritual or use a tradition to reassure that you will be back to the child even if you are leaving her/him for a while. This simple method allows you to develop a special bond with your child and ease her/his anxiety. For instance, if you have a job, then before going to work you can always give your child a goodbye kiss and hug her/him, telling the child that you will be back soon and you both will spend some fun time together. Goodbye traditions also include things like a big hug. Also, do not leave with much fanfare, that is you must strictly leave after the ritual. Do not come to the child again and again. This will enable your child to be stress free and wait for you happily, without worrying.
Make a clean break
If your child is over 1-year-old, then you must practice clean breaks, which means that if you are going out for two hours, you must not tell your child that you are going out for 5-10 minutes. So, refrain from saying things like, ‘Mummy will be back in a while’. Instead, say something like, ‘Mummy will take some time, then we both will do something together’. This way, you will not give your child any false hopes that you will come sooner than you ought to. Also, the child will have an idea about your daily routine and after a while will get used to your schedules. You can practice separation by leaving your child with a caregiver for a while and then returning back. Therefore, make a clean break by telling your child that you are leaving for some work and reassuring her or him that you will be back.
Place a positive tone for separating
Young children tend to have a sense of ‘clinging’ to their mothers. Therefore, they may get too anxious and worried, when you separate for a whole. So, you must use a positive tone, when you separate from your child. For instance, instead of giving your child to the caregiver and then sneaking away from the house, you must go to the child and tell him/her that you are leaving and that you will be back in sometime. Say things like, ‘Till then play with nanny,’ or ‘I will read you a story during bedtime’. This way, you will display a positive attitude towards separating and your child will have something to look forward once you have left her/him for a while. So, remember to use a positive tone. Combine it with a tradition or goodbye ritual so that your child feels safe and secure even if you are not with him/her.
Distract the child
Before you leave for work, you must make sure that your child is distracted for the time, when you would not be there. So, make sure that you keep his/her toys at place, instruct the caregiver and arrange some play or some healthy television viewing so that your child is distracted from the fact that you two will be separated for a while. You can give the child his/her favorite crayons, or see that your child plays with his/her dolls. Since, children do not have a longer attention span, therefore, distracting them for a while is easy as well as healthy. Find new and unique ways of distracting your child, when you leave. For instance, you can take him/her to a painting class and then leave for your work or you can ask your caregiver to teach your child alphabets and numbers for the time you are out for some job. But make sure that when you leave, the child knows that you are going out or else, if he/she notices this later, s/he may throw tantrums or may display anxiety. Otherwise, distracting the child can ease SAD. You may also distract the child by helping him/her form a bond with father or a relative, or a close friend of yours who will take care of the child, when you are out for work. This will help your child to explore the world, stay calm and distracted.
Use special treat or engaging object
Kids generally learn things through rewards or positive reinforcement. Therefore, you must use some special treat or engaging object to make sure that your child is distracted for a while or that your child has something to look forward, once you are separated. For instance, you can ease SAD by telling a child that you will read a fairy tale, if s/he behaves nicely even when you are not at home. And if your child stays calm and happy, you can provide him/her a special treat, like reading a book, giving a warm bath, getting a small toy or treating with a chocolate once in a while. The treat can also be like, ‘If you stay a good child when I am not home, then I will take you to park on Sunday.’ This way you child will ease his/her worries over time and become accustomed to the separation without being stressed or tensed.
Decide when to sneak out
For kids below three years, deciding the time to sneak out can decide whether your child will be calm or whether s/he will be anxious, once you are separated. Remember, babies tend to be more susceptible to SAD, when they are tired or hungry. This is because these are the two situations where the child needs a parent the most. Therefore, remember, never sneak out just before your child’s eating time. Also, do not sneak out during the hours, when the child may be tired and wants you to put him/her to bed. The best time to sneak out is when the child is fed or when s/he is asleep, so that the child does not worry about how s/he will be fed or when his/her mother will put him/her to sleep. Deciding your sneak out time can be beneficial, helping you to calm an anxious baby.
Enlist children caregiver
Caregiver can make or break the situation. So, make sure that you select a good caregiver for your child. Look for someone who is motherly and is able to pacify your child. Also, make sure that the child and caregiver develop a positive bond. If the child is not fond of the caregiver, and cries consistently, when left with the caregiver, then there is no point in keeping the caregiver. In such a case, you must look for someone who is friendly with kids. Also, once you have hired a caregiver, make sure that you do not keep on changing her/him. This is because a child takes quite a while to develop a bond and changing caregivers can be stressing for the child as for him/her, every new face is a stranger. Therefore, enlist a good caregiver who can take care of your child, when you are not there. Also, when you enlist a caregiver, ensure that you check his/her background. Make sure that the caregiver is friendly and patient towards your child. Some children tend to develop SAD only because their caregivers do not take care of them or leave them alone. So, choose responsibly and carefully.
Recognize and avoid the anxiety triggers
Sometimes, child may display separation anxiety during a particular situation and may appear calm during others. Therefore, you must recognize and avoid such anxiety triggers. For instance, if your child gets too uncomfortable and feels traumatized, when you leave for your night shifts, you must consult your boss and get yourself a job during day shifts. Similarly, if your child feels anxious, when you leave with lots of people, then avoid this trigger and separate from your child only when there are lesser people present in the room. Do not separate from your child, when you are to an unknown place like a market or restaurant as these places may trigger anxiety. At times, recognizing and avoiding the anxiety triggers such as sleep time or food time can be a crucial factor in deciding whether your child will experience anxiety or not.