Don’t Leave Me!
You’re finally ready to leave baby at home to enjoy a date night with your partner or lunch with a friend. But someone else has other ideas. But how do you get out the door when your little one is doing that “peel the paint off the wall” shrieking? With the right caregiver who is reliable, patient and loving, you can feel confident that everything will be fine.
Separation anxiety usually surfaces at about nine-months-old. At that age, babies are more aware of their surroundings and become cautious of new people. But preparing them for a separation can start very early on. Practice separation by frequently telling your baby “I’ll be right back with your blanket, bottle or toy” and “Nighty night, I’ll see you in the morning.” Your tone of voice and your attitude send a message before they understand all the words.
When introducing a potential caregiver to your baby, do it in a neutral place outside the home, like a park or a restaurant. Rather than pushing physical interaction, let baby assess the situation and decide whether he’s comfortable being held by someone new. Not every caregiver is a good fit so read your baby’s, and the sitter’s, cues. No hard feelings if it doesn’t work out, even with family members. And if your cousin tells you “I’m not good with babies” – LISTEN! It takes a lot of patience to spend time with a fussy baby.
Don’t sneak out that first time either. It teaches a child that you can disappear without warning and that’s scary, especially for a toddler. A hug and a kiss with a cheery “Bye now, see you later” and a quick exit makes it easier on everyone. Try to avoid saying, “I know it’s hard. I’ll miss you, too.” That just prolongs the agony when your child is being fussy.
Make your first outing a brief one and try to schedule it after naps or feedings. Babies are more susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re tired or hungry.
A good caregiver will be ready with a toy or an activity to help with the transition. Keep in mind – children will always turn on the waterworks in front of their parents. Don’t be manipulated! You NEED some time to yourself.
When your child becomes articulate enough to tell you, “I miss you when you’re not here,” be ready with a calm reply stating that you always come back. There’s a sweet episode on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” when he tells his sitter he’s sad and they sing a song about “grown-ups come back.” It’s such a simple thing, but that type of communication really matters to a child. Reassure them that it’s normal for you to leave and okay for them to feel sad.
The real key is consistency. By establishing a consistent pattern of attentive good-byes and happy reunions, you can build your child’s confidence in your relationship.
By Kim Amato
Founder & Executive Director / Baby’s Bounty
Community Program Coordinator-Southwest / Cribs for Kids