The last thing on a new parent’s mind while raising their child is separation anxiety. Instead, they earn a Ph.D. in diaper changing with a minor in burping after feeding. All jokes aside, learning how to deal with anxiety and stress originating from detachment issues is a critical skill to learn for any parent or guardian.
Whether your child is heading to school for the first time or your newborn arrived a few weeks ago, preparation for the future will prevent unforeseen issues from taking precedence over the precious moments with your progeny.
And if that weren’t enough, you’ll learn the topics and domains to discuss with your pediatrician in the upcoming weeks and months. Now, go put your child down for a nap and let’s get started!
1. Baby Steps
Baby steps are, quite literally, the key to success in almost any endeavor while parenting. From learning to sleep on their own, taking their first steps and riding a bike without training wheels, incremental daily progress reigns king.
Keeping this in mind, parents must slowly introduce moments of independence into their child’s waking hours. Although this process is challenging for parents, allowing your baby to practice self-sufficiency in small dosages will unravel their unhealthy dependency and help them regulate their emotions when you’re not around.
To keep things simple, here are a few domains to consider while dealing with your child’s separation anxiety:
Give your child space for self-soothing.
When fussy, introduce a new stimulus to divert their attention.
Use games like peek-a-boo to introduce the psychology of “going away” and “coming back.”
Find a toy that soothes your child’s woes while you’re away
These subtle techniques, when implemented consistently, build your child’s ability to be by themselves without throwing a tantrum. Remember this, mom and dad: start slow, but remain consistent! Training your child to become independent will cause tears to flow and tensions to mount at first, but in the long run, you’ll be thankful you incorporated each practice.
2. The “Goodbye” Game
Another brilliant holistic tactic that allows your child to calm their anxiety when leaving the room is playing the “goodbye” game with their dolls and toys.
Does your child have a doll, toy or object they adore more than others? If so, this will be your anchor for detachment-anxiety training. First, carve out 45-minutes to an hour out of your hectic schedule for one-on-one time with your baby. Once settled, bring your baby into the room with their toy and close the door behind you.
After getting settled, gently speak with your child and ask them to come into the other room with you. Before leaving, say this: “sweetheart, will you help me in the other room? How about we leave your toy in here while we’re away? Don’t worry: we’ll come back in a few minutes!”
While this game seems overly simplistic, it introduces the concept of leaving for a brief period and returning in the future. Over time, this allows your baby’s mind to make deep-rooted neurological connections and understand basic human concepts. Before you know it, your child will learn to ease their tension without you being in the room!
3. Ritualize Your Exit
Whether you’re a parent who notices their child’s anxiety builds when leaving for work or a stay-at-home guardian whose baby cries for attention when performing household chores, abrupt exits are never ideal. While our adult minds have acclimated themselves to brief “hi’s” and “goodbyes,” babies don’t understand the concept of time or external commitments, such as work and errands.
To counteract this problem, your pediatrician may introduce small rituals that solidify the concept of leaving your child on their own. When completed, your child will breathe a sigh of relief, knowing their parent or guardian will return in the future.
The beauty of this technique is that it allows parents to express their creativity and let their children get involved in the process. For some parents, they may perform a quick, 20-second ritual that incorporates kisses, hugs, toys and wholesome phrases.
For another family, this ritual may rely on a silly dance or song that indicates the love between each family member. Whatever your case may be, there’s only one rule with ritual: you must complete the habit each time you leave for an extended period until your child’s separation anxiety dwindles. Don’t worry: solidification of self-soothing techniques happens quicker than you think!
4. Webcams and Microphones
Digital technology allows parents to help their children deal with separation anxiety and detachment issues with ease. Type-A individuals know how valuable it is to have a few moments to themselves when having a newborn, but what about when their kiddo throws a tantrum from their bedroom?
In this case, a webcam with a high-quality microphone comes in handy. If you notice your offspring becoming fussy or beginning to cry when you leave the area, calmly speaking over the microphone helps manage stress and overcome uneasiness.
When your toddler hears the comforting sound of your voice speaking out loud, they’re more inclined to accept small durations of separation and detachment. Before you know it, you’ll be able to tackle all the daily chores while your youngster quietly plays or naps!
5. Quick Fixes
Whether your child’s separation anxiety is linked to you or an object in their possession, there are some moments that, quite literally, make us want to pull out our hair. Don’t fret: this experience is perfectly normal, and parents should never feel upset or “lesser than” for becoming frustrated with their offspring.
Unfortunately, there is no “get-rich-quick” style scheme that instantaneously calms our children without any effort. However, there are a handful of remedies that can soothe their woes in 30 minutes or less. Here’s what they are:
Reframe the episode into a positive experience
Utilize transitional objects
Incorporate family members who the child is familiar with
Keep the child’s immediate environment familiar and consistent
Praise the child’s strengths while minimizing their focus on the separation trigger
Lastly, ensure that you’re never too quick to give in to your child’s crying and fussiness. Although this is easier said than done, parents who, for lack of a better term, “give in” to their child’s tantrums not only reverse their progress, they make the anxiety worse.
Over time, your child will conceptualize the idea of separation and learn to let go when needed. Whether you’re a new parent or have a house full of rugrats running around, you’re stronger than you think, and you have the power and ability to help your child overcome their separation anxiety effectively.