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My 2 year old is a happy and confident toddler once at daycare with her peers, however some mornings at drop off, she will cling to me tightly and refuse to go to the daycare instructor, crying loudly when it is time for me to leave. How can I help her separate from me and feel safe when it is time to say goodbye?
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Separation anxiety is equally distressing for moms and kids. I have experienced that it’s not just the baby who is crying, we as moms also feel extremely stressed.
Usually children are fussier at drop off time with one of their parents. If you feel that your baby is less fussy when her father drops her, try to share this responsibility with your husband for some time.
Your child might be less clingy if they are looking forward to a very exciting activity at the end of the day. For example a good baby at day care eats an ice cream on the way back, bakes a cake with mom or goes to the play land in the evening. Reinforcements work good in developing a desired behavior, but gradually decrease the frequency. For example, instead of daily exciting activities, gradually make it a fun activity at the end of the week.
Day care buddy can be used as a peer support mechanism. A good friend of your baby at day care can help in transforming stressed goodbye to momy into happy welcome time by favorite fellow at day care. Management of daily care can be very helpful in making this possible.
Separation can be tough and it is completely normal for your child to cry at this time. Even though it can feel heartbreaking, your child will be ok. My child care educators taught me that the best way to leave is by having a consistent 'goodbye' routine and by doing it quickly. Before you walk in the door tell your child what will happen and then follow it. Its fine to take a bit of time to settle your child into an activity if they are interested but if you know they are going to cry, its often best to hand them to an educator, say 'goodbye', remind them that you will be back later and then leave. Hanging around for too long can make the whole situation worse and cause more anxiety for your child.
My daughter also experienced some separation anxiety at that age. Once she was settled and playing with her friends, she was perfectly happy, but saying goodbye was heart-breaking.
We found that establishing a "goodbye routine" worked well for us. You can tailor a routine that works best for you. In our case, I would walk my daughter in and let her put her bag in its cubby hole. After that, I would help her choose a morning activity. Once she was settled in her space I would give her a cuddle and a one minute warning – “Mommy’s leaving in one minute”. At the end of the minute, I would say goodbye and leave the room.
I learned that it was important to let her know when I was leaving so that she didn’t get distressed looking for me. The teacher or assistant were always nearby to offer some support if she became tearful, and although it was difficult to walk away no matter what, I would receive an update a few minutes later that she was settled and back playing with the activity she had chosen.