INA Weekly Brief

Transition Times: Surviving Separation Anxiety

February 1, 2018
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We’ve all been there. The parents need to go to work or get out the door and the nanny is ready to take over. Then the toddler starts melting down and the school-aged child is stomping around demanding cake for breakfast and the entire house seems to be swirling into chaos.  How can we make this time of day smoother for all those involved? A few simple tricks and a united game plan can make transition times much calmer and easier for everyone involved.

First, establish what times of the day are most difficult and why that may be the case. Some children may struggle with mornings while others may be more easily frustrated in the evening hours when perhaps the nanny is leaving. Every child is different and sitting down with your employers to discuss each child’s needs is very important. Have a plan in place and keep it simple.

Next, you will want to determine what part of your current routine is already working. Maybe the toddler loves a big bear hug. That’s a great start and a good part of the routine to keep in place. The most important part when transitioning to a new routine is to be consistent!  Have a set routine in place for your transition times and make sure everyone knows the plan. For older kids, try talking about the transition times ahead of time to prepare them. Some children do great when we walk them through what will happen.  A few minutes makes everyone’s lives a bit easier in these stressful moments. 

Other than not having any routine, letting goodbye’s last too long is the biggest mistake parents make. An easy guideline to go by is a hug, a kiss, and a quick goodbye. Keep it short and sweet because dragging out goodbyes will make things much more difficult in the long run. If it’s over a few minutes from start to finish, then something may be going wrong. As soon as the child realizes that someone is leaving your timer begins. 

There are a few important reasons for keeping the routine short. Ideally, we’d like to minimize the crying as much as possible but everyone involved should also be able to get to places efficiently. If it takes 30 minutes just to say goodbye then no one is going anywhere fast. Usually, as soon as the person leaving is out of sight the situation starts resolving itself fairly quickly and we can all move on with our day. 

It can be tempting to turn back to comfort a crying child but it is so important to keep the routine consistent and short. Use words to reassure the child that you will indeed return. Phrases like “I’ll see you after nap time” or “one big sleep until I see you again” can aid in building trust with the child. It is important to remember that difficulty with these transition times is normal and can come and go throughout big developmental leaps. As kids go through big changes, you may see separation anxiety come back in waves. Reassure your child and keep up with the routine. It really does matter to do it every single time. 

Though it might be tempting, avoid sneaking out when leaving your child. Sneaking out when a child is distracted is avoiding the real problem and it is not very nice. It can also teach your child to worry that you will suddenly disappear. The child may be sad during goodbyes but actually saying goodbye is an essential part of teaching a child that you respect them and that you will in fact return. As silly as it seems to some people, it is even respectful to say goodbye to a young infant. They understand much more than we give them credit for and it helps to ingrain the goodbye routine from a very early age. 

Always remember that your child loves you. Even when the separation anxiety seems to last forever keep in the back of your mind that it is only temporary. It will get easier. They will love you even through tearful goodbyes and the occasional tearful reunion. Validate their feelings and stick to your short, sweet routine for every single goodbye. You will all be thankful for it eventually. 

Devon Bushhouse is a nanny in the Boston area currently working full time in a nanny share. She has worked with several children over the last five years as a nanny. Devon is a Child Passenger Safety Technician and also is CPR and First Aid certified. She is a host for National Domestic Radio; a radio show for and about domestic workers. Over the past few years, Devon has worked closely with children ages newborn through three. She has a bachelor’s degree from GVSU in Business Management and Event Planning. She is an active member of the local nanny community: hosting Nanny Breakfast Club upon occasion, attending local and national conferences, speaking at events, and providing car seat checks. Devon is an active baby gear enthusiast and happily makes all sorts of product recommendations.