One of the most common worries for families starting care is, “will my child settle?”
Entering childcare is a big step for every family. It is very normal for children to become upset or anxious when they are saying farewell to someone important to them. This reaction is known as separation anxiety. Separation anxiety generally effects children from around 9 months to 4 years old, however, it can appear at any time within this age bracket and can reappear even after a child has had a period of time without experiencing separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can be exhibited in a number of ways. Young children particularly, may cry, cling to a familiar person, or “tantrum” when saying goodbye. These are all perfectly natural reactions for your child to have, although the intensity of these reactions and the length of time that they continue for varies from child to child. There are a number of strategies parents can use to assist their child with separation anxiety.
Some tips for supporting children with separation anxiety:
- Practice Separation: Start by leaving your child for brief periods of time, this could be with a familiar adult or with a new carer. As your child adjusts to separation, gradually increase the time you spend away from them.
- Wherever possible, schedule separations either not long after naps/feeds or well before naps/feeds. Children are more likely to experience separation anxiety if they are hungry or tired. They are more likely to be successfully comforted and distracted if they are alert and ready to play.
- Always say goodbye. It can be tempting for parents to quickly sneak away without their child realising as none of us like to see our children upset. However, this is more likely to create increased anxiety for your child, often then becoming frightened that the important adults in their life can and will suddenly disappear.
- Develop a quick “goodbye” ritual. Predictability is very important for children. If you can create a very short but consistent drop off routine this will help your child to become comfortable and familiar with the process of leaving. These routines can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss. It is a good idea to keep these short as prolonging the process can feed into your child’s anxiety and make them feel insecure.
- Communicate honestly. For your child to develop the confidence that they can handle separation, it’s important that you are honest about the length of your absence. If a child knows when you are coming to collect them and you consistently arrive at the time you have told them, this will help to foster a sense of trust and confidence that you will be returning for to pick them up. Of course, things can change at the last minute. If this happens let your child’s carer or Educators know so that they can communicate honestly with your child.
- keep familiar surroundings when possible and make new surroundings familiar. When your child is away from home, encourage them to bring a familiar object. Comfort items are really important. Even if your child has not previously needed a comfort item while at home, it is likely that a familiar object will help to reduce their anxiety when attending care.
If you’re concerned about your child settling it is always important to communicate with your child’s Educators or carers. Particularly in childcare settings, staff are well versed in settling techniques and will be able to give you plenty of sound advice on the best strategies to support your child in settling into care.