A lot of things, when it comes to young children, is the age they are that dictates behavior and common occurrences. Another part of it that you may not realize is a parent’s role in helping a child develop skills and competencies. One of the biggest ones we see in early childhood education is separation anxiety. This also can happen when a child is making a transition (like being dropped off at daycare or transitioning to naptime, etc.)
There are a few things that parents can do to help their child build confidence, competence, and a positive mindset regarding transitions and to help soften separation anxiety in your young child. A lot of it actually starts with expectations you have of your child regarding helping around the house. Even a child as young as 12 months old can help clean up toys, put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, help feed the family dog or cat, and could even bus their dish after they are done eating (scrape food in the trash and put the dish and silverware in the sink).
The first handful of times, you’ll need to show your child how to do these things and verbally instruct them on how to do it (remember, they don’t know the ways of the world yet). So if you want to work on your child putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, after you’ve helped them get dressed into PJs for bedtime, just say “let’s put this in the laundry basket. over here.” and point to where it is. You can even do a demonstration with 1 article of clothing and then say “you do it” for their turn. You can make this fun or silly too- it doesn’t have to be a serious endeavor.
Another thing you can do is to have your child help with cleanup of toys. To just say “ok, clean up the room” would make any child under 3 years old overwhelmed, so try and break it down into something smaller. “Let’s clean up the books and put them in the bin” or “Let’s clean up the blocks. They go in this bucket, like this” then demonstrate how to do it. The younger you start this, the better (around 10 months they may begin to help clean up a bit) but with children, a good time to start is now if you’ve missed that mark.
If your child is having a hard time transitioning to daycare drop-off in the mornings, be sure you talk about where you’re going while driving in the car on the way there. “It’s a daycare day today! Are you excited to see your friends?!” and then when you arrive, can say something like, “Let’s go ring the bell and say hello to everyone!”.
If your child is able to walk independently, have them walk from the car into the daycare, holding your hand if they tend to be a runner or get distracted. This builds autonomy (independence) and minimizes the amount of transitions (versus if they were carried in, they’d need to be put down (transition 1) and then say bye to mom/dad (transition 2)). In this sense there’s only 1 transition going on and it’s easier for children to manage this. Once inside the daycare, it’s a good idea to give your child a hug, a kiss, and then have them go into the daycare room and say goodbye. Sometimes saying something like “have a good day!”, “have fun!”, or “see you later” can help your child realize that everything is ok.
Another thing that can impact separation anxiety is a parent’s feelings about the situation. Our children look to us (parents) for a reaction of what to do based on what’s happening. So if we have anxiety about daycare, guilt about it, or other negative emotions like that, our children pick up on it and will take on that emotion. If mornings are a mad dash, this can also give children anxiety too which can turn up as separation anxiety in your child. If at all possible, have things packed and ready to go the night before so that your mornings can go more smoothly.
Above all, be sure that you validate your child’s feelings, even if you feel they are silly or unfounded. To your child, their feelings are real and they may need reassurance. Saying things like “I’ll see you later” or “I know you’re sad, but Mommy’s gotta go to work” or “I know you miss Daddy. We’ll see him tonight” are all ways to validate your child’s feelings while still letting them know that they are still (being dropped off at daycare, going to bed cause it’s bedtime, etc).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
What challenges are you having with your child right now regarding separation anxiety and with transitions? Write in the comments below.