For the first 18 months of my son's life, I thought I was one of the lucky moms whose kid handled my absence in stride. After all, he warmed to friends and family immediately, going willingly (almost too willingly) into any pair of outstretched arms he encountered. He was a phenomenal sleeper, rarely complaining when I left him in his crib and dozing all through the night with barely a peep. And the first day I dropped him off at daycare, he waved me away with a big smile, nary a tear in sight (unless you're counting mine).
Then came the second day.
This time, as I began to walk out of the classroom, his face crumpled in sheer panic. His mouth let out an ear-piercing wail as he reached for me, begging to be picked up and rescued. So I did what I thought any good mom would do: scooped him up tight and tried to soothe him by telling him I'd be back before he knew it. When I tried to put him back down, he wrapped his arms and legs around me in a death grip, refusing to put his feet on the floor. Eventually, he did — only to repeat the cycle all again.
All the while, I ignored his poor teachers' attempts to shoo me out the door. I should've listened. They knew a lot more about separation anxiety than I did. Every action I took that morning only made things worse.
Don't do what I did. Instead, follow these simple tips to keep the separation anxiety at bay.
1. Always say goodbye.
Children need to know when you're about to leave. Sneaking out may save you some hassle in the moment but when your child suddenly realizes you're gone, they're going to be even more upset than they would have been in the first place. Give your child the same courtesy you would give anyone, and say goodbye before you go off on your merry way.
2. Don't make a spectacle.
My son was already nervous when he realized I was about to leave. Drawing out the process by picking him up and putting him down over and over only intensified the emotion of the situation. The next time you have to say goodbye to your child, a warm hug and kiss will do just fine. Lingering and coddling your kid just a little bit longer might seem like you're comforting them, but in reality, that behavior signals that you are uncomfortable about leaving. If you don't seem okay with leaving, your kid will definitely not be.
3. Establish a goodbye routine.
Kids do best when they know what to expect. Whether you're leaving your child at daycare, school or with a sitter, creating a consistent goodbye pattern will set them up for a pain-free separation. Remind them that you're going somewhere an hour before so they have time to prepare. Tell them how long you'll be gone. Even if they don't have a great sense of time, they'll take comfort in the assurance of your return.
4. When you go, stay gone.
I learned this the hard way. I dropped my son off one morning, then had to go to the office to talk to the director. On my way out, I thought, what the hell — let me just peek my head in the classroom. BIG MISTAKE. Seeing my face made him think he was about to get sprung early. When he found out he wasn't, the vicious goodbye cycle kicked in all over again. So while the urge to check in is tempting, keep in mind that all the back and forth may be toying with your child's emotions.
Diane Levine is the Associate Creative Director of the award-winning branding and marketing agency Think Creative. She specializes in writing, branding, marketing and inspiring people to believe in their own awesomeness so they can find more joy at work and in life. She is a mom of two, a wife of one, and a collector of many pairs of high heels.