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Separation Anxiety
by Rebecca Garland

As your baby grows, he will suddenly become aware one day that he can become separated from you. As funny as it sounds, for most of his early months, he likely suffered under the illusion that the two of you were the same person and didn’t seem to mind being handed around or handed off to a loving grandparent for the afternoon. There will come a point, however, when your child who has been going agreeably to childcare for months won’t be so agreeable anymore.

Separation Anxiety
As unpleasant as it is for parent and baby alike, separation anxiety is a very large part of growing up. Some children are less affected than others, but almost all children have moments of tears and screams as they are separated from a parent in childcare or even at Grandma’s house. Some especially sensitive children might act this way every time you are separated for months, while others might test the waters a few times before deciding the drama isn’t worth the effort.

However your child handles it, the basis of separation anxiety is realizing that you can go somewhere else without bringing baby along. Object permanence means your child suddenly realizes that you are still out there, but not with him. Thus, he must be with you. Rather than expressing this concern and driving need in words, he is forced to show him undying adoration and fear of being without you by clinging to you, trying to climb your legs, throwing tantrums, and flat out sobbing.

For the uninitiated parent, the first bout of true separation anxiety is overwhelming. Even experienced parents have a hard time dealing with the gut-wrenching tears. Fortunately, in all but a few cases, the tears are over in minutes, if not seconds after you’re gone and baby is quite content to get on with playing quite contentedly while he waits for you to come back to him.

Tips for Handling Separation Anxiety
There are ways to head off much of the separation anxiety your child experiences along with ways to help you both cope with the daily drama. Every child is unique, however, so finding the best coping strategies will be individualized to your child and situation.

Stay Consistent – Your child will have less anxiety if he’s going to the same place and to the same caring arms every time you drop him off. He might still cry and fuss for a while, but you know that he’s just complaining about being separated. He’ll be fine in minutes and in good hands the rest of the day. Soon, he’ll be happy to get to where he’s going every morning and you might be able to skip the waterworks completely.

Get Settled - There is well-worn wisdom that tells parents to drop their children and run out of the room. This is a bunch of bologna for most children. Once your child is adapted and is extremely comfortable somewhere, you can drop her and run. But if your child is facing a new or relatively new situation, you shouldn’t leave him on his own to get acquainted. Hang out for a while playing with your child. Explore the room together and read a story or take on some of the new toys. When you sense your child is settling down and comfortable in the environment, say a quick good-bye, kiss him and walk out the door.

Short Good-Byes - Drawing out the good-byes is a surefire way to upset your child. If you’re lingering with tears in your eyes and hugging him time and time again as you edge toward the door, he’s going to realize something fishy is going on. Get him settled and then give him some love before walking out the door. He’ll take his cues from you. If leaving is no big deal, he might squawk at being separated, but he’ll see that it’s not a drawn-out production that he needs to participate in.

Always Say Good-bye – If you are told to sneak away, you’re betraying your child’s trust. Always say good-bye. You don’t need to snatch him up in a giant hug or even make eye contact. Just be sure you make a very clear, “Bye-bye Baby, Mommy will be back soon to snatch you up!” before you walk out the door. Otherwise, he’ll get anxious never knowing when you’re staying or going.

Excited Reunions – Give your child something to celebrate when you come back. Let him “tell” you about his day and if he wants to cry about it and punish you for a while, let him have his way. Soon things will fall into a routine and the separation anxiety will be far easier to handle.

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