Separation for an infant is not an easy feat. In fact, it can cause him or her to feel greatly distressed or anxious anytime you have to leave them. It doesn’t matter how short or long. The second you lean forward to give someone else a chance to hold them, your child immediately wails and clutches tightly onto your shirt. For some babies, this is a natural reaction. Yet, for others, it could be a sign that they are experiencing separation anxiety.
Adoption Choices of Oklahoma has developed a resource to help. Following are seven ways to treat separation anxiety.
1. Practice Short-term Separations at Home
Imagine that you are playing a game with your child, and you hear the oven ding in the kitchen. As you prepare to get up, your son or daughter becomes upset and starts crying. You’re instantly torn between calming them down and rescuing dinner from burning in the oven. Instead of panicking, approach this situation with patience, understanding and confidence. Try saying: “It’s ok! I have to go check on dinner, and then we can keep playing.” Smile and use a gentle voice. Do not sound annoyed or condensing in anyway, as your baby will pick up on that. Then, do exactly what you say. Take dinner out of the oven to cool, and return immediately to your baby. Hug them reassuringly and say, “See? I’m back! I will always come back.”
Practicing short-term separations like this at home will greatly improve separations that occur outside the home. This, then, will slowly help your baby know that they can trust you and feel safe, easing the symptoms of separation anxiety.
2. Follow Through All on Your Promises
To establish a sense of safety and trust with your son or daughter, make sure that you follow through on all your promises. Never say something just as a bribe, or forget what you said to them previously. Babies and young children remember, and will become even more upset if that promise isn’t seen to the end. If you say you’ll be back in five minutes, or will read them a bedtime story — do that. It doesn’t matter how small or big your promise. You want a way to treat separation anxiety, not make it worse.
Your child’s faith and trust in you as a parent hangs in the balance each time you give them your word of honor. If you ever honestly forget or make a mistake — because that happens sometimes — immediately apologize and do better the next time. Intentionally not following through because you think “oh, they will get over it” or “it’s just five extra minutes” or “they’ve probably forgotten already” is a major no no. An epic parenting fail. Your child will remember, and it could have devastating consequences.
3. Don’t Make Leaving a Big Deal
When your baby starts crying and reaching for you, it’s hard to ignore the tug on your heartstrings. To fight the urge to scoop them up and tell them everything will be ok. Rock or bounce them until they quiet down. But then what happens? You hand your baby back over to the babysitter or daycare provider and immediately, it’s water works all over again. This time, louder and more forcefully than before.
It doesn’t matter if you’ll be gone for one hour or four. Don’t make your departure a big deal. Let your baby know that you’re leaving, but don’t give in to his or her protests. As harsh as that sounds, this is one of the best ways to treat separation anxiety. Instead, pair your quick exit with the next tip.
4. Remain Calm and Matter-of-Fact
Babies are like tiny geniuses or superheroes. They have this uncanny ability to zero in your thoughts, feelings and body language. After a short while, they have enough information stored up and know what reaction to display to get what they want. Case and point, when you have to leave, they know that tears will melt your heart and that — in extreme cases — you’ll change your mind and just go back home.
That’s why it’s best to stay as calm as possible, and speak in a soothing, matter-of-fact voice anytime you are leaving your child. Even if you’re feeling anxious yourself, mask that. If your baby senses any hesitation from you, it’ll be game over. They won’t feel safe and separation will be twice as difficult. You’ll most likely end up late to whatever you were going anyway. So, hand-in-hand with the one above, give your baby a hug and kiss, say you’ll be back, and then leave. Short, simple and sweet. A very healthy combination that will help your child in the long run.
5. Bring Along a Familiar / Cherished Toy
Especially if you have to be away for an extended amount of time, or you are bringing your baby on a vacation for the first time, be sure to bring along something familiar from home. A favorite toy. Teddy bear. Their nighttime blanket. Anything that they’ve attached themselves closely with, as that will help with the separation factor.
Spraying your perfume on this item is also a soothing way to treat separation anxiety. If the object smells like you, this can help keep your child calm and more relaxed when you’re away.
6. Never Sneak Away From Your Child
Many parents have been advised to quietly sneak away from their child when dropping them off at a daycare. That the other co-teacher in the room will purposefully distract your son or daughter so you can make a quick get-away. Unfortunately, this is just a lame ploy to get you out of the classroom faster. A tactic to avoid any tears or lengthened departures so that they can get on with their day and keep the atmosphere as happy as possible. Because, especially with the younger age groups, once one child starts crying, it’s like a domino effect. This, in turn, makes for a frustrating and exhausting day for the daycare providers.
If you know that your child struggles with goodbyes, the best way to treat their separation anxiety is to let them know that you are leaving. To wave at them, smile and tell them how much fun they will have. It may seem like a good idea to listen to the daycare providers, but resist the temptation. If you make a habit of sneaking off, your child will learn that behavior and make it even more difficult the next time.
7. Read Stories with Separation
What child doesn’t like stories read to them? Especially when it means getting to be held by mom or dad. Books are an incredible way to treat separation anxiety, as there is so much material available on the topic. It’ll help your baby learn more about what separation anxiety is, and will make it less scary for them overall. Below are three kid-friendly, Adoption Choices approved books to read to your little one.
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak
- The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and Geoff Stevenson
- Llama llama Misses Mama by Pamela Zagarenski
Ways to Treat Separation Anxiety
In order to healthfully treat separation anxiety, your son or daughter must have a strong sense of safety, trust in their parents, and trust in whomever else they meet. Whether this be friends, other family members, babysitters, doctors or daycare providers. Always try and find ways that better your child’s separation anxiety, no matter how long it takes. Establishing trust and security are the two most essential ingredients of treating separation anxiety for good.
Adoption Choices of Oklahoma
If you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of Oklahoma. You may visit our website here or call 405-794-7500 (Oklahoma City) or 918-982-6220 (Tulsa).
Support Adoption Choices
Adoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.
However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.
About the Author
Rachel Robertson is a published journalist, book editor, certified Publishing Specialist, and aspiring novelist. She graduated from Central Washington University (CWU) in March 2011, having found her writing voice within the Creative Nonfiction genre and grew to work as a freelance book editor for small presses all across the United States.
In June 2018, she embarked on an internship with Virginia Frank and came on board with Adoption Choices Inc., Not for Profit 501(c)(3), in December 2018. Between her mutual passion with adoption and surrogacy, and her own personal history with adoption, Rachel is excited to research and share topics each week that will spread awareness and better serve the faithful patrons of Adoption Choices Inc.
When Rachel isn’t haunting her local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, she’s avidly pouring over her Writer’s Digest subscription or cozying up with a cup of tea and a book. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her beloved wife and Border Collie.
“Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder.” HelpGuide.org, 13 June 2019, www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-and-separation-anxiety-disorder.htm.
“Separation Anxiety.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/separation-anxiety.