Separation anxiety is a problem for parents when they need to go to work. This creates a conflict for a busy parent rushing in the early morning hours. What to do?
Because your child has separation anxiety, always leave at least half an hour of free time before you leave for work. This probably means getting up earlier, but it’s worth it.
- Listen to your crying child’s words of fear about you leaving. Paraphrase their worry so they know you listened and care. (“I know you’re upset I’m leaving the house now. It’s distressing.”)
- Tell the child exactly where you are going and give them a quick text or call when you arrive.
- Tell the child when you will see them. Be on time when you arrive home, so you instill trust.
- Tell your child you’re not leaving him or her, just going to work. Distract the child by asking them about their day as it has been planned, so they think about not only where you’re going but what they will be doing. This gives perspective to the anxious child.
Give a hug, but don’t prolong it. Be matter of fact about your leave-taking like it’s usual.
Praise your child for collecting herself and understanding Mommy/Daddy’s need to be a good worker and get to their job on time.
These general steps if done calmly soothe the child because they put the leave taking in perspective. The child might be deeply afraid they’ll never see their parent again. Giving clear expectations of where and when your going and coming back takes away that fear. Be gentle and calm but clear and focused. That helps your child follow your lead and calm down as well.
If your child’s anxiety tends to spiral upwards as you are talking, sit down with them (remember you’ve given yourself extra time) and if they like to be touched, put your arm around them and help them breathe slowly with you to regain emotional control and self-regulation. Suggest slowing talking down to a calmer pace which triggers the rest of their body to relax. Reminding them they’ve been through this before successfully is a useful perspective for the child.
After you come home, discuss with the child what happened in the morning and how you will address it if it happens again. Depending on the age of the child, it may not be normal anxiety. If they are older than 3, it’s outside the norm, so consider if this is prolonged getting professional help. We want our kids to know that leave taking isn’t disappearing or dying and leaving them alone. Remind them who they will be with such as a special trusted adult while you are absent.
Separation anxiety is an irrational fear of losing a parent quite often. If there have been real incidents of loss in the family, this exacerbates the problem because the child’s fears have been realized at some point. In your evening discussion, point out that going to work is not the same as when someone really didn’t return should that be the case. Normalize the daily life plans so the child knows what to expect each day like clockwork.
If you follow these steps you will be calmer about your child’s angst which will in turn calm your child. I must emphasize that you need to leave enough time to carry out these tips and not just rush out the door on a crying, scared child or even teen and to have another kind trusted adult to take your place who is consistent every day.
You will find your parent-child bond is strengthened in this process and your child learns to trust, the key element that they are missing, demonstrated by their separation anxiety.