Strategies for separation anxiety

How to help your child deal with the anxiety of being apart from you

Q: Until recently, we lived near my mom, who would babysit our three-year-old. We’ve tried to have a babysitter, but my daughter got terribly upset, and we gave up and sent the sitter home. Any ideas on how to help our daughter adjust?

A: Reacting negatively to separation from a parent is normal and signals your child’s healthy attachment to you. Separation anxiety can also be triggered as a result of a change, such as a move or a death in the family.

To help your daughter, have the babysitter over for a playdate during which you remain present. You can then serve as the bridge for your daughter by playing with her and the babysitter, giving her the message that this new person is OK. A few days later, have the sitter over again, only this time slowly take yourself out of the play.

Next, leave your daughter with the sitter for a short time. Don’t try to sneak away ­—­ make your departure quick, loving and confident (“I’m going to leave now. I love you and I’ll see you when the big hand is on two”). Your daughter may protest; ideally, the babysitter will have an activity planned so that she can capture your daughter’s attention as soon as you leave. Keep the duration short at first, and return exactly when you said you would. In general, it often helps children to have a transitional object or something of yours that they can hold onto until you get back.

Reassurance can also come from reading a story with your daughter about separation, such as Judith Viorst’s The Good-bye Book.

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