Babies on the Coast 13-Nov-2012
by Jackie Goldston
It can be very hard to leave your child when they are upset. Child and Youth Health Network (CYH, SA Government) explain, “Separation anxiety is when a child gets upset when separated from a parent or loved carer. For example, a young child may become distressed when left with a baby sitter, or when put to bed by herself.”
It is generally accepted that separation anxiety is normal during early childhood. It can start as young as six to eight months of age and continue on and off until about two and a half to four years of age. Some kids may never show any sign of anxiety and separation and with others, it can last longer. CYH suggest that “separation anxiety reflects the child's attempts to hold on to what is safe in a very scary world, and it will settle down as the child grows older and more confident.”
The childcare dilemma
Experts believe that separation anxiety peaks around 12 – 18 months. CYH explain that even though there can be a peak, it “often takes until children are three or four years old for them to feel safe even for a short time when they are away from people they know and trust.
“This means that toddlers may often become distressed on separation from parents and carers when being dropped off at child care centres. However, this distress is often short-lived, and many children do thrive in the safe environment of a child care centre.” Choosing a centre that has a low turnover of staff can assist with your child bonding with a carer or a few carers making you child feel safer and more comfortable.
There are steps that you can take to help reduce separation anxiety, particularly in a childcare setting:
· Share as much information as you can with your child’s caregiver. Share things such as likes, dislikes, fears, eating/sleeping habits which will help them better understand your child.
· Take time to visit the new setting with your child if possible before the first day of care. Look at when your child will eat, sleep and play.
· Help your child adjust with a few short days to begin with. This will give them more opportunity to build a bond with their carer and start to learn that you will always return. Take time to talk with the carer in front of your child. A child will watch you for cues of trust and confidence.
· Ensure that you are well prepared before the first day. Having a calm start on the first day will assist in a more successful separation. If your child is old enough it can help to have them involved in planning their clothes and food (if needed) for the first day. Sometimes even with younger children a choice between two shirts or pieces of fruit can give them a feeling of control.
· Bringing something from home for the first few weeks to use as an item of comfort or familiarity can help (sometimes it may be a toy or blanket, for others it may be a photo). This is especially important if you use a specific item as a sleep cue (such as a sleeping bag).
· Talk to your child on the way, keeping calm and positive. Talk about the day ahead for your child and explain in a simple way when you will be picking them up (for example, after your sleep and afternoon tea I will come and collect you).
· It can be helpful to develop a "goodbye" ritual of something simple such as a kiss or hug. Older children may like to be a part of the decision of what this will be.
· Don’t sneak out, as tempting as it may be. Always take the time to say goodbye, but avoid repeated goodbyes. Once you say you are leaving, go through your ritual and go.
The Canadian Childcare Federation shares that you need to accept and listen to negative feelings. “If you or your child are feeling upset about the separation, reassure yourself that you have taken all the required steps to place your child in a safe, nurturing and stimulating setting. Telling children that they are too big to cry or that they are making a fuss over ‘nothing’ only aggravates their fears and fails to help them understand their true feelings. Saying, ‘I know you are feeling sad. I will miss you too,’ is more helpful.”
The bed time dance
Kindy, childcare or leaving your child with a friend is not the only time that your child may show signs of separation anxiety. Bedtime can be a mind field for some parents (me included!). From around 6 months of age, babies may get upset at bedtime, especially when a parent leaves the room. At this age they don’t understand that their parents may be just outside as they cannot see them. If your baby is distressed, it is best to comfort and resettle them.
There are as many recommendations as there are experts for baby settling and sleep. It is best to work with what you are comfortable with. Once the child is in their own bed they may try and follow you out of the room or become very clingy. If this happens you have a few choices to help your child to sleep and it is important to work within your comfort level.
Experts recommend having some kind sleep routine, regardless of the age of the baby or child. This may be reading a book, having a glass of milk/ water or singing a quiet song, followed by a goodnight kiss. Babies and kids generally find comfort and security in routines and this can help parents in organising bedtimes and reducing tension and stress.
Over time, experts believe your baby’s anxiety at being left on their own at bedtime should reduce through following a regular routine. As a parent, we all need to do what is best for our families and our own mental wellbeing. If you want something to change, sometimes doing it in small steps is the best you can offer at the time.
The transition to school from either childcare or home can be a time of nervousness and anxiety for some children. As the national early childhood initiative KidsMatter explains: ‘Starting primary school is an important time for children and their families. Children who make a positive start to school are more likely to feel: comfortable, relaxed and valued good about themselves as learners, and a sense of belonging to the school community.’
Early Childhood Australia recommends the following to help to prepare for a smooth transition into school:
- Select the right school for your child by talking with other parents, visiting schools and checking each school’s website to see how their values, programs and expectations connect with your wishes and dreams for your child.
- Find out about the school’s enrolment and orientation programs and procedures and ‘book in early’; how much time and attention the school gives to ‘orientation’ may influence your decision about which school to choose
- Take your child to orientation programs—watch how comfortable they are in that setting and discuss how you and the child feel after the event.
- Get to know the Principal and/or senior staff and class teacher at your chosen school; explain your child’s home life and culture and previous learning experiences, including their strengths and needs.
- Talk positively about the chosen school, without building up unrealistic expectations. If you have unhappy school memories, try to put them behind you and set up your child to enjoy and make the most of their school experience. Listen to any concerns your child may have and answer any questions.
- Take them for a walk around the school, pointing out their classroom and ‘mapping’ the journey from the room to the toilets, canteen, library and other key facilities.
- Try to make contact with another family with a child going into the same class, so that your child knows someone when they actually start school.
Jenni Connor and Pam Linke from Early Childhood Australia explain, “In the first year of school, it is particularly important that your child knows you are there for them and that you will listen, understand, comfort and support them and follow up any concerns about school on their behalf. Parents are the safe base from which children can move out to explore the world, to learn and grow and become socially confident, responsible young people.”
Importantly, if you are concerned that your child simply will not settle or may have something more serious wrong, make sure you trust your parenting instincts and seek help from a health professional, school counsellor or an appropriate person or organisation.
In our print edition we included the first paragraph of this article which discusses separation anxiety from an attachment parenting perspective. Chaley is an attachment parenting expert and passionately believes in what she writes about. I believe that this is a great opportunity to discuss this topic in an open forum. You can read the article here and comment below with your thoughts. My children both attended (and one is still attending) childcare. My family made choices that best worked for us. As parents, we need to make the best decisions that we can for our children and try not to second guess ourselves too much. I am looking forward to talking about this more, so please comment below and join the conversation.
‘Separation Anxiety Disorder' Debunked: An attachment parenting perspective
By Chaley-Ann Scott
Book: Your child’s first year at school: Getting off to a good start by Jenni Connor and Pam Linke; Early Childhood Australia
Women and Children’s Health Network: http://www.cyh.com
Attachment and progressive parenting advice: www.asktheshepherdess.com
Attachment Parenting Australia: http://www.attachmentparentingaustralia.com/