Separation anxiety

Recently Ive had problems separating from parents who keep asking me for tips to make it easier for them to separate from their child when theyve hired a baby-sitter and want to go out for the evening. Let me see if I can reduce some anxiety about this problem of separation anxiety. First, your childs separation fears are a normal and healthy phase of development that begins around 6-9 months of age and continues through toddlerhood. Having you leave and come back helps your child develop trust and form attachments to other people. If leaving your child with a sitter remains a struggle, here are a few suggestions: Consider introducing the sitter gradually by inviting him/her to play with your child while you are in the house; gradually you can move to another room, leaving the two of them alone. Have the sitter arrive several minutes early to show that you are comfortable with him/her and to start any play activities. Do not try to sneak out without your child knowing it this only increases the anxiety for both of you. Let your child know you are leaving with a quick kiss, hug, and a good-bye and without a lot of pageantry. Use a key phrase like Good-bye, Ill see you soon, which prepares your child for your departure. Creating a wave-through-the-window game that becomes a ritual may be useful in helping your child come to terms with your leaving or, leaving something that your child thinks is valuable to you, like a key chain or handkerchief may be all it takes to convince your child that you are coming back. If your child starts to cry as you leave, stay calm and leave. Call a few minutes later and youll probably find out that things are just fine and your child is quite happy. Hopefully, tips like this will sit well with you and your child when it comes to feeling more comfortable when you need to leave your child with the sitter. Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Childrens Hospital at Fletcher Allen and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch First with Kids weekly on WOKO 98.9 FM and WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.

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