Do you find it impossible to take a shower, work at your desk or even use the bathroom without your little one tagging along, or crying if you leave the room without him? This aspect of separation anxiety is very common. The good news is that all children eventually outgrow this phase, but you can move things along by using some of the following ideas:
Play the door game. You can practice safe separation by playing a game. Start by making animal noises. Have your child guess the animal; if pre-verbal, encourage him to echo you. Once he has the gist of the game, sit him on the floor near a door and hide behind it. Play the game and pop out with each sound. Then play again with the door closed. Once this becomes familiar, you can make a few noises if you're in another room. Not only will he have fun, it will show him that you can be in the room with the door closed and everything is just fine.
Have practice sessions. Rather than wait until you must be separated from your child, set up short practice sessions throughout the day. Allow another person to engage your baby in playtime. Then slowly back up and sit a few feet away - smiling but unengaged. After a few minutes, get up and leave the room for a minute or two, coming back before your child gets upset, and making a happy entrance, “Looks like you two are having fun!” Slowly build up the time to five minutes, 15 minutes and so on. A few practice sessions each day will help your child deal with longer necessary separations.
Get your child occupied in play. Before you leave the room, get your child involved in an activity, then have another adult take over while you step back. A great activity is looking out the window at the trees, neighborhood or wildlife, as your child's focus will be outside and away from you. Once they are engaged, you can make your exit and allow the two of them to continue playing.
Allow your baby independent time. Throughout the day, encourage your baby's independent play. Often babies are so endearing to us that we don't realize that there are times we can and should encourage a bit of independence - it's good for your baby to learn that she can entertain herself. Begin to notice when your little one is happily occupied with a toy without your direct involvement. When you see this, step away from her. These solo-play sessions will pay off when you take that one step farther and she can't see you in another room.
Create a special box of toys. Decorate a cardboard box, or purchase a small colorful box with a lid. Fill it with an assortment of new and interesting toys. Pull out this surprise box of toys only when you need to separate at these times, such as when you are working in your home office or showering. When you are done, close up the box and put it away for next time. Rotate the items in the box so that it always contains something new and interesting. Make it an exciting part of your routine and soon your child will be looking forward to it.
Allow others to have more time with your child. Very often a child becomes particularly needy with one parent above all other human beings. This is often because that is the person who tends to his basic needs nearly all of the time. If this is the case, that one person becomes a security object, so it's unfair to be the daily constant in his life and then ask him to separate from you happily when you need him to. If you find that nearly all of your child's waking hours are spent with you, try to find ways to have your spouse, partner, babysitter or grandparent spend more time alone with your child. Experience will build security and your child will come to know that other people are also capable of meeting his emotional and physical needs.
Elizabeth is the author of The No-Cry Solution series of parenting books. Her latest book is The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat - and Eat Healthy. (Excerpted from The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution (McGraw-Hill) by Elizabeth Pantley.) For more information, visit www.pantley.com/elizabeth.
Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2023 Calgary’s Child