Separation anxiety can occur at many stages throughout your child’s early years when your child is adjusting to spending time away from you, whether you are going out for a parents-only night or your child is starting their first day at preschool. Founder of baby deedee and mother of three, Dominique de Bourgknecht, shares her experiences and tips for other parents coping with their children’s separation anxiety.
Q: At what ages did your children experience separation anxiety? Did each of your children exhibit similar triggers and stages?
A: I would say that around 2-3 years old was the hardest age. All my children went through it; from following me in the bathroom to seeming inconsolable on the occasional night we were leaving them with a babysitter.
Q: What were the most common triggers for your children’s separation anxiety?
A: A new babysitter who arrives around bedtime when your child is already tired is the recipe for the perfect storm. You can hardly blame the kids when you think about it. They are meeting a total stranger and then wonder if you are ever coming back.
I always interview someone who could become a regular babysitter with the kids a few days before so they can get used to the idea and they have already seen and met the person.
Q: What are the most effective strategies you’ve developed for the “goodbye” routine?
A: I let my kids know beforehand, including my 3-year-old daughter, that I will be going out and I make sure that the babysitter comes earlier than bedtime. I also always tell them when I am leaving (even if the temptation to sneak out is big!) but I keep it short and sweet. I make sure the babysitter knows not to hesitate to call if my daughter is still upset after 10 minutes. I don’t want a new babysitter to think that I will not be happy her/his services if she/he bother me when I am out. It’s the opposite, I will trust them more if I can see they are putting my child’s happiness first.
Q: How did you prepare for your child’s first time with a babysitter to avoid separation anxiety?
A: With my toddler, I made sure to tell her: “Mommy is coming back at 10 o’clock when you are sleeping”. With my older children, they are now concerned something could happen to us while we are out and want to know what to do. We explained that there are emergency numbers on the fridge and that they can call them; reassuring them that there is a plan in place.
Q: How did you prepare your children for their first day of preschool or kindergarten to avoid separation anxiety?
A: Our pre-school had a period of 2 weeks of phase-in where we went just to see the classroom first, then for 1 hour waiting in the hall, etc. That worked well, although I was surprised when one of my children after being fine for weeks suddenly became very upset. Some children can have delayed reactions when they start a new school.
Q: What is the worst instance of separation anxiety that you have experienced with your children?
A: When my daughter was a baby she was inconsolable one night when we went out. I was so happy that our babysitter called me saying “I think she just misses you”. I came back, reassured her and was able to go back out after that.
My daughter is still very unhappy if I drop her off in an unknown setting like a gym child care room, so I try to avoid it and stick to babysitting at our house which seem to be less of an issue for her. I am sure it will progressively get better and I don’t want her feeling worried.