Raising kids is a high-stakes responsibility, and in this age of social media and easy access to information about anything and everything, parents are easily overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. As a sleep consultant, I see this all the time from parents whose babies aren’t sleeping well.
One of the other major contributors to the, “I’m doing something wrong,” sensation is separation anxiety; that oh-so-challenging part of a child’s life when they start to completely flip their lids whenever Mom’s not around.
The thought process, it would appear is one of...
Mommy’s not in the room.
Therefore, Mommy is somewhere else.
I would prefer to be there with her.
Make that happen, or mark my words, I shall raise the most unimaginable of ruckuses. And those ruckuses leave us, as parents, to wonder, “Am I doing something wrong?” Feeling absolutely grief stricken!
After all, a well-adjusted child should probably feel reasonably safe when they’re separated from their parents for a little while, shouldn’t they? I mean, Beth from the office says her baby is perfectly content being left with her sitter, even overnight. And that one mom in your Facebook group said that her baby will happily play by herself for hours at a time, and actually takes her toys to her room occasionally in order to get a little ‘me’ time.”
Two things to keep in mind.
First, never compare yourself, or your child, to the mothers and babies described in the parenting groups on so- cial media. Much like everything else on Facebook and Instagram, these experiences are almost always conveyed through the rosiest of lenses.
And second, separation anxiety is completely normal, expected, and a sign of a healthy attachment between parent and child. Take is as a compliment that your child doesn’t want to leave your side, however, it is very normal to go through this stage.
But we obviously want to keep things at a happy medium, and if you’re struggling with a child who’s pitching an absolute fit every time you try to run an errand or head out for date night, here are some tools to take that edge off, and our next blog will over four further tools.
Lead by Example
Your little one follows your cues, so if you’re not willing to let her out of your sight, they probably, albeit unconsciously, feel like they’re not safe if you’re not in the room. So designate a room where they can explore a little and play without your direct supervision. It’s a small adjustment, but it has a tremendous effect.
Don’t Avoid It
Learning about separation and reunion is an important milestone, so don’t just take the path of least resistance and stay with your child 24/7 until they’re seven years old. (It happens. Believe me.) Let them know that it’s okay for them to get upset when you leave and reassure them that you’ll always come back when you do. If there are some tears around it, that’s alright. This is an important concept that they need to get on board with.
Once your little one has started to demonstrate the understanding that they’ll be spending some time with someone besides a parent, make it a short outing. Don’t plan on dinner and a movie or an overnighter for the first few attempts.
Start With Someone Familiar
Kids typically do a little better being left with a grandparent or family friend who they’ve already spent some time with, and who they’ve grown to trust a little, so call in a favor, put some wine in the fridge, and plan to spend at least an hour away from the house for the first few attempts.
The hard reality is that it may be a bit of a process for a while. We need to help our little ones along on the way to feeling confident when we leave. This doesn’t mean it’s perfection every time, however, by being consistent with how we approach these kinds of situations, it allows them to feel more comfortable.
Now, I should add here that these techniques are suggested for kids who are dealing with ordinary, everyday separation anxiety. There is also a condition called Separation Anxiety Disorder which is obviously more serious and warrants a trip to your pediatrician if you suspect your little one might be afflicted with it.
But for run-of-the-mill fit-pitching when you try to leave the house for an hour or two, these tips (paired with those in our next blog!) should go a long way towards remedying the problem. Be consistent, supportive, assertive, and calm. Before long, your child will understand the concept of you leaving and coming back.
In fact, this concept that will also come in handy when you start to leave them alone in high school.
“I’m leaving for the night, but rest assured, I’m coming back. So you just remember that before you invite your crazy friends over.”