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Why is my child still crying when I leave him at daycare?

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Parents can experience guilt, anxiety, frustration or sadness because their child cries during goodbye and drop-off at child care. These are perfectly normal behaviors for a child to display. In fact, separation anxiety is a typical part of child development and are a sign of healthy attachment. Even knowing that your child’s tantrum will calm moments after you leave, separation anxiety can leave both you and your child feeling unsettled.

Babies tend to adjust well to new caregivers. In many cases, parents feel more anxiety than their child when dropping their child off at daycare or leaving her with a sitter. Most infants younger than six months take well to other caregivers as long as their needs are being met.

Ages and stages of separation anxiety

As early as four to five months of age your child may begin to grasp the concept of “object permanence.” This is when infants begin to understand people and objects still exist even when they aren’t within sight. Your infant may recognize that when she can’t see you it means you are not there with her (even though you may just be in the adjacent room). Infants also don’t have a concept of time, so they can’t distinguish the difference between your being the kitchen for five minutes versus your dropping them off at child care for the day. They are only aware that you left, and, naturally, this leaves them feeling anxious and upset.

Some children may not develop separation anxiety until around fifteen to eighteen months of age. At this age, your child begins to develop her independence. This self-awareness also increases her awareness of separation from people with whom she has bonded. Her reaction to your leaving may be tearful, loud, and difficult for her or an adult to control.

Around the age of three, many children understand the effect their tearful anxiety has on families during separation. Children at this age may cry or fuss when things don’t go their way, including being picked up from or dropped off to child care.

For all children
Children of any age may be extra fussy during separation if they are hungry, tired, or not feeling well. Children who are challenged by a new developmental task, like transitions in child care rooms or providers, may briefly forget a recently learned skill, such as potty training. Don’t worry if your child reverts back for a while, steps backwards are normal and temporary.

Tips to help you and your child cope with separation anxiety

Practice makes comfort
If your child is starting a new child care program or entering a new classroom, make a few visits together before it’s time for a full day. This allows your child time to explore her new surrounding and toys and meet her new classmates while you meet the teacher and learn about the classroom structure and routine. It’s normal to have a few worries when trusting another person with your child, but if your child senses hesitation from you, he may feel unsafe. Getting to know the teacher and classroom a few days ahead of time will help to put both you and your child at ease.

Be sincere, consistent and calm
Although it may seem less disruptive, don’t sneak out while your child is distracted. This may stress your child during the day and cause your child to cling to you on other mornings for fear of you leaving without saying goodbye. Instead, acknowledge his concerns and be sensitive to his feelings. Your display of empathy will help your child to feel safe and understood. Develop a goodbye routine in which you give your child a loving and pleasant but firm goodbye. Remain calm and display confidence in your child. Comfort him by letting him know you will return. Use terms he understands, like “I will be back after lunch or nap time.” Give your child your full attention as you say goodbye, but be brief. Once you say goodbye to your child, leave without lingering to chat with the teacher or visit other children. Additionally, giving in to your child’s tears will only teach your child that tantrums are the solution to getting her way. Suggestions for goodbye routines:

  1. Create a unique handshake or special wave.
  2. Give two hugs and a kiss then wave goodbye.
  3. Leave a special love note or trinket to remind your child that you love her and will see her later.

Keep your promises
If you promised your child you would be back at a particular time, follow through on that promise. This builds trust and allows your child to have confidence that he can make it through the time apart.

If your child has never been cared for by anyone other than you, has other stresses, or is shy by nature, she may have a more difficult time coping with separation anxiety. It is unusual for daily anxiety to persist into the elementary school years. If you have a concern about your child’s level of stress or anxiety when you leave her with others, talk with your pediatrician.

Remember, your little one’s reluctance to leave you is an affectionate sign of a meaningful attachment.  With preparation, consistency and time you will both get through this period. Eventually, your child will understand that when you leave you always return.

By ABC Quality Team on November 14, 2017