Saying Goodbye When They Won’t Let Go
If you are a parent of a child under the age of 5, you’ve probably experienced at least one (or possibly more than one) episode of separation anxiety. If you look up the clinical definition of these fairly common episodes, one is to assume that this heightened state of anxiety is provoked in a young child by separation, or the threat of separation, from their mother, or caregiver.
While this explanation may provide a logical and sound basis for understanding, it’s hardly enough to shake off the jarring mental image of your sweet baby, clinging to your leg for dear life, while releasing primal screams that are enough to reduce you to tears.
What’s even more heart-wrenching, is that this typically seems to happen when you are trying to do something good for your child such as: taking them to an art class, dropping them off at preschool, or even spending an evening bonding with grandma and grandpa. You might automatically assume that your child simply doesn’t enjoy the activities that they are being asked to participate in. This is certainly NOT always the case!
Despite the pit you might feel in your stomach when your child is begging you not to go, keep in mind that you may be enabling them to miss out on valuable opportunities for growth by giving in to their anxious behaviors.
Here are some of our favorite tips for preventing and easing separation anxiety.
Create quick good-bye rituals. Even if you have to give triple kisses at the cubby, keep the good-bye short and sweet. If you linger, the transition time does too. So will the anxiety.
Be consistent. Try to do the same drop-off, with the same ritual, at the same time each day and avoid unexpected factors whenever you can. A routine can diminish the anxiety and will allow your child to simultaneously build trust in their independence.
Attention. When separating, give your child full attention. Be loving, and provide lots of affection. Then say good-bye quickly despite their cries for you to stay.
Keep your promise. You’ll build trust and independence as your child becomes confident in their own ability to be without you. Always stick to your promise of returning.
Be specific, child style. When you discuss your return, provide specifics that your child will understand. If you know you’ll be back by 3pm, tell your child on their terms; for example, say, “I’ll be back after nap time and before afternoon snack.”
Practice being apart. Send your child off to playdates, and allow friends and family to provide child care for you. Before starting daycare, preschool, or extra-curriculars, practice your good-bye ritual beforehand. Give your child a chance to prepare, experience, and thrive in your absence!
While it’s rare that separation anxiety will extend on a daily basis beyond the preschool years, if you’re concerned that your child isn’t adapting to being without you, always reach out and ask for support. Teachers, class instructors, family, and friends can be wonderful resources and can provide valuable insights to help you and your child overcome this obstacle together.
Eventually your little one will come to trust that saying goodbye isn’t forever, and that letting go is a part of life.