When it comes to starting your child in long daycare or an early learning centre, parents can get separation anxiety too. After all, you have been your child’s main caregiver since they were born, whether that has been for the past three months or two years.
Suddenly you’re expected to drop everything and move on with your life. How can you walk away when your child is screaming for you at the door? Or maybe they have settled quite nicely but your heart is breaking into pieces as you leave.
Two words. You can. Thousands of parents have had to drop off their children and go back to work or life’s other commitments. You can too.
What is parental separation anxiety?
Parental separation anxiety is the anxious feeling you get when you have to separate from your child for the first time. It could be leaving them with grandparents for a night out with friends. Or drop them off at an early learning centre for the first time.
You may feel anxious and depressed and completely overwhelmed. This little human being has been a part of your life since they were born. You are the one they turn to when they are hungry, tired, sad, upset, worried or bored. You are the one that knows how to change them, hold them, feed them and put them to sleep in just that way they like.
You are their world.
Boy have you struggled to master this. And now that you have, you are expected to hand the reins over to someone else. It is no wonder that you would feel a little out of sorts, akin to having your arm ripped out of your body.
Many parents return to the car to bawl their eyes out after the first drop off at childcare. It goes against every fibre in your body to walk away from this little creature that you’ve taken care of since birth, whom you might have left with large balls of tears streaming down their face or who is looking dazedly around this place they are supposed to spend the next eight hours in.
The good news is, it will get easier in time – for both of you.
How to ease your separation anxiety
1. Trust the educators
Early learning centre educators are trained to take care of children. Trust that they know what they’re doing and will be there for your child. At Red Apple, our manager has been in the business for 35 years and every room has highly experienced educators
We are proud of our track record of having happy, well-settled children. Work closely with the educators so we know how to best support your child. You know your child best and we would be happy to hear how we can make your child’s transition as smooth as possible.
At Red Apple, we have a culture of community – we’re all part of the Red Apple family regardless of race or background – and we are here to help take care of your child.
2. Think of all the great things your child will be learning
Early learning centres are an excellent place for your child to learn skills they will need to be ready for school and life beyond. Your child will learn how to explore new concepts, be creative, solve problems and build relationships with others.
Early learning centres provide a fantastic environment to guide your child and set them up for life based on the Australian government’s Early Years Learning Framework of belonging, being and becoming.
Surrounded by a network of skilled educators and their peers, your child will develop skills that are essential for their future success such as independence, resilience and learning how to communicate with others.
3. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do
It’s a fact of life. We need to pay the bills and sometimes that means having to sacrifice some time away from your little one.
Rest assured, being away from you often does not leave any permanent damage to your child’s emotional wellbeing. In fact, your child could learn to be more independent and self-reliant.
Many children, especially those under one year old, are able to form secure attachments with an alternative caregiver, which is why we always try to have the same educators in each room, giving children a greater sense of familiarity and comfort.
Remember, it’s not quantity, it’s quality. Your child will not remember how many hours you left him at the early learning centre but they will remember that song you sang with him at bath time. Or how you both laughed so much seeing who could blow raspberries more loudly.
You may have less time with your child now, but you can still make the most of it – and that’s all that matters.
4. Put on a brave front
Your child may be crying their eyes out at drop off and screaming their heads off. Others may be calm and clutching their soft toy as you leave, and it is the parent that is breaking down inside.
No matter how worried or anxious you feel, show your child you are confident and happy to leave them. You may want to sneak out when you see they are distracted with something. Don’t. Make it a point to say a quick goodbye and walk away.
Yes, you can do it. Don’t linger. Keep walking, don’t turn around. And if you do, give them a big smile and wave. When you get to the car, then you can bawl your eyes out. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
5. Stay connected with your child’s day
Many parents find that it is helpful to know what their child is doing throughout the day. At Red Apple, we use Storypark, an app where we upload pictures and notes on what your child has been up to. You can easily log on anytime and check out what your child has been doing at the centre.
If your child is older, this also makes a good conversation starter at pick up. Remember, the educators are here to work with you. Don’t hesitate to ask them how your child’s day went or if you need to share any information with them.
6. Enjoy your newfound freedom
It may seem like you will never feel whole again. But remember, before you were a mum or dad, you were so many other things. Parenthood can make you temporarily forget who you were but it is only healthy to be able to continue functioning and doing things for yourself as well.
It may feel strange driving off without having to worry about anyone in the back seat, being able to eat with two hands, having the space to think about other things besides the 101 things you need to buy/do/get/pack/learn for your child.
Don’t feel guilty. While you can, enjoy your newfound freedom and rest in the knowledge that your little one is in good hands.