Back to Work Blues

As well-adjusted as our young toddler is, there is no simple way to say “Mommy is going back to work, and you’re going to spend the whole day with a bunch of people you don’t know!”  It’s going to be his biggest change in life so far, as well as one of the most difficult for us as a parent- the daycare drop-off.

We call it separation anxiety, and it’s that moment when our child exhibits highly stressful behaviors when one or both parents leave.  Most research shows that it starts about the age at which your child begins to walk and really shows itself around the ages of 15-30 months.

There are a couple of ways for us as parents to help deal with these difficult and heart hurting times.  The first and most common strategy is to establish a routine.  Not only at the moment of the drop-off, but starting at home.  Have you child talk to her favorite stuffed animal, saying “good bye” and “see you when I get back” everyday.  Point out trees or buildings along the way, again and again (“There’s Mr. Oak Tree again, see you on our way home”).  Help you child know and feel that it will be the same everyday, and try very hard to come back at the same time.   That provides security and reliability in the trip to daycare.

Another strategy at the top of the list is to have an exit strategy yourself.  So much of what our child feels he learns from us and our reactions.  When we struggle to leave, he sees the dismay, senses the hurt, and learns, too, to feel concern when you leave.  Be strong, don’t delay the inevitable.  Turn and walk away before he sees your tears.  It hurts, but it is helping him in the long run.

Some child behavior specialists talk about changing our words when saying goodbye.  Instead of saying, “It’s ok, don’t worry, everything will be fine,” tell her, “This is going to be so fun for you.  Tell me about the fun things you did when I get back!”  When we use concerning words, it conveys concern to them.  Be positive and excited for them.

In the end, have patience and try not to get frustrated.  It may only take some children three to four days, and others it may take months to fully get over that very anxious moment of your leaving.  Keep working at it, stay consistent and strong and think about the fun he is having.  He’ll be awesome, and very happy to see you when you back.

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