All mums need a break from their kids sometimes. Most will also agree they miss their kids as soon as they’re gone. But what do you do when ‘missing them’ turns into hard-to-shake separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can make a ‘break from the kids’ feel like more trouble than it’s worth, which means Mama never gets a moment to relax!
We all know the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup“. So how do you ever refill your cup if you can’t bear the thought of handing over the reins to someone else?
It’s important to know when the level of anxiety you are feeling is healthy, and when it’s impacting your ability to function throughout the day.
While severe anxiety should always be worked through with a Mental Health Professional, there are ways to help ease certain forms of anxiety.
When it comes to Separation Anxiety, these tips can help parents take that much needed break, and teach their kids that some time apart is okay, too.
1. Take baby steps
By this, I mean ease into it. Don’t feel like you need to drive straight to Grandma’s house and drop the kids off for the night. There are ways you can ease the kids (and yourself!) into the process.
Start by having “play dates” with the future caregiver. This could mean having a potential babysitter over to the house, so that you can watch how they interact with your children. Or, it could mean taking them to daycare, and staying for a play with them there.
Once your child and the caregiver have built up a bit of a rapport, try leaving them just for a short while. Maybe you could duck down to the supermarket, or even take a walk around the block.
This way, you know you are close by and it won’t be long before you’re together again.
2. Stay Close
The first few times I sent my kids to daycare, I made sure I had no serious commitments. This meant, if they needed me, I could drop everything and be right there.
While my kids were perfectly fine, it eased my mind knowing that I could be there if I needed to.
Try doing this the first few times that you leave your child for the day, or overnight. If you’re having a date night with your partner, maybe stay home and binge on Netflix before booking a night away, out of town.
3. Keep Busy
Now, by “busy”, I’m not suggesting you fill your day with so many tasks that you’re beyond exhaustion, as a means of distraction. Instead, try and have some kind of plan for the day.
I still find on daycare days, that I cannot sit at home and do nothing. Years of motherhood have made that feel too foreign of a concept for me now!
You don’t need to make any serious commitments, but try having some sort of idea as to what you want to achieve.
Start with something along the lines of: “Do two loads of washing, mop floors, get nails done, do a yoga workout, then pick up kids”.
The comfort of knowing you could drop these things if you had to, means you are less anxious about committing to them.
4. Timing Is Key
Kids are impressionable. This means it is likely that they will pick up on our emotions when it comes time to say goodbye. So it’s important that we take into consideration the best times to leave them, for their sake too.
Finding the “sweet spot” in terms of your child’s age and their daily routines also helps make the transition less stressful for all parties.
Try not to start daycare or childcare with an unfamiliar person when your child is between the ages of 8 months and 1 year, when separation anxiety is first likely to appear. Also, try not to leave when your child is tired, hungry, or restless. If at all possible, schedule your departures for after naps and mealtimes – KidsHealth.org
I found the 6 month mark was a good time to start getting used to some time apart. At this age, kids are establishing a routine with solids, they still have day naps, they are more interactive, and are easier to entertain.
This early introduction especially helped for times when it was essential to have time apart, like when I gave birth to my second child.
5. Make Sure Your Child Knows It’s Okay To Go
Once again, children easily pick up on our moods and our nervousness. So it is important that we put on a brave face and be super optimistic when we leave.
Parental separation anxiety often transfers to children and contributes to their anxiety, which will in turn trouble you and lead to a cycle of guilt.
Do your best to be enthusiastic and upbeat about your child’s plans.
You don’t want your child to feel apologetic or to regret his leaving, so make sure that you express only optimistic thoughts – Maya Cohen of Family Education
With toddlers and older kids, try and get them excited about all the fun activities that their caregiver has planned for them, and even try asking them to make you something special (like a painting) for when you return.
This will affirm to them that you do plan on coming back, and that won’t be gone forever.
6. Don’t be afraid to call
Still to this day, if my kids ever go to Nanna’s for the night, I always make sure to call and message to check up on them throughout their stay.
The same goes for when they are at daycare. I also ask to get sent plenty of photos, so that I can see for myself just how much fun they are having without me. Which by the way, is always a lot!
If you feel like your anxiety is crippling, and nothing you do can stop the “What ifs?” from ravaging your mind all day long, then don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Many people suffer with severe anxiety, and mothers are not exception. Professional help is available to those who need it. So don’t ever feel as though you need to suffer in silence.