Mommy SOS : Daycare and Separation Anxiety

This SOS was submitted by Sarah:

I’m going back to work in a week and am utterly TERRIFIED that Finn will
be devastated and think we’re deserting him! Visions of him screaming from
the moment I leave until the moment I return, not eating or sleeping,
literally keep me awake at night. As teachers, my husband and I have been
home with him every day for the past 10 weeks, and he’s become a very
attached 10 month old who’s used to having us around ALL the time. He’s
had positive interaction with those caring for him (a family member and a
family friend), but recent “tests” during which I’ve left for a short
while have not gone so smoothly. How can I make things easier for Finn —
and for myself? What has worked for others?

I have to admit that even though 12 weeks seemed ENTIRELY too soon to leave Jasper at daycare, it did make for a smoother transtion than I’ve seen happen with older babies.   But, perhaps even more difficult at the 10 month mark than getting used to new people is the extreme separation anxiety that 10 month olds suffer from in general.

Jasper, who from 12 weeks to 10  months NEVER cried when I dropped him off, began sobbing hysterically and clinging to me when would leave starting at about 10 months. In fact, only in the last two weeks or so has that behavior started to stop. It  has also coincided with him being able to play happily and independently on his own again, freeing me up to cook and do other things while he entertains himself. That is to say – have hope! It truly IS just a stage, but it is definitely one that can be frustrating and heart wrending for both baby and child.

My advice is to transition him as gradually as possible (which it sounds like you are doing ) and know that it is completely normal for him to be upset when you leave him at this age, even for babies like Jasper who have been going to the same daycare center with the same care providers since he was a tiny baby!  He WILL cry, but a minute or two later he will get distracted and be fine.   It’s most likely going to be harder on you than on him,  and  in a few months the separation anxiety will start to cease as it does with all toddlers closer to the one year mark.

But enough from me! What about you all, what age did your baby start having childcare and what did you do to make the transition as smooth as possible for your baby? Does your baby suffer from separation anxiety? If your baby is over that stage, when did it end for you?

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heartartz says:

My son’s classroom at day care had a window that looked out at the parking lot…such torture for me to watch him crying as I got in the car and drove away.
Then one day after we entered he ran to the kids and just started playing. As I got in the car he was not at the window crying or waving goodbye…. although I was sad, I knew then he was ok.
I also remember, one day I came to pick him up and my then 4 year old said…”Why are you so early? I will miss free play time. Go back to work. Then come back when you are supposed to.”
It was then I knew I had him at the right place.
I never came early “again”.
They grow up so quickly.

Alicia says:

I have nothing to add – I think everyone pretty much said all the major points! I just wish Sarah the best of luck in dealing! I know when my son got too big for me to bring to work everyday I near about went all to pieces. But it does get easier – for you both!

Rachel says:

I don’t use daycare, but DS is 9 months and starting to have it, he won’t even let DH hold him sometimes! It breaks my heart for DH :( I don’t know what to do about it!

Sarah says:

Thanks so much for the suggestions. I’ll try to maintain a strong outward demeanor. Jbhat is right; I need to signal to Finn that I’m leaving him in good hands. It’ll be hard not to cry or run back for one last hug if and when he cries as I leave, but as Peytie’s Nanny pointed out, I want to make things as easy as possible for him and his caregiver. I can cry when I get into the car, right?

Peytie's Nanny says:

Just one more suggestion because everything else has been touched upon. It is very important NOT to run back to “save” your child when s/he starts crying for you. I know it’s hard because it breaks your heart to hear them cry for you, but having worked with children in daycare settings I can promise you the teachers are secretly BEGGING you to say your REAL GOODBYE and leave. It honestly makes the adjustment for the child easier. When you rush back for that one last comfort hug or what-have-you, you are teaching your child that if they cry you will always come back and when you don’t come back they cry even harder and longer. It just goes back to my whole “say what you mean, mean what you say and follow through” life moto! You’ve told them you’re leaving and that they will be save and have fun and that you will be back, give them love and walk out the door.

Heather says:

It’s tough! My son has just started having increased separation anxiety when I drop him off at daycare (17 mo.) although he’s been going since he was 4 mo. old…and LIKES it there! They told me it is entirely normal at this age, and especially because at this stage they’re starting to exert more control over their environment. I stand outside the room to wait to see if he stops crying. It’s really harder the few times I’ve gone back in, because it just prolongs the crying. They are working hard to engage him in a “fun” activity after I say good bye, and it seems to be helping. Gosh though, last week, I burst into tears in the parking lot after I dropped him off because he got so upset.

HamiHarri says:

I totally agree with this:
“Oh, I almost forgot! One thing one of his teachers told me made so much sense: Your instinct may be to “sneak” out in the mornings while he is distracted and not say goodbye, but in the long run it’s better like JBhat said to say a “real goodbye” even if it brings about crying.. the reason is that if you sneak out they learn to be MORE fearful and clingy that at any second they could turn around and you’ll be gone!”

I STILL remember my Mom leaving me with some friends for an entire weekend (she went to Montreal with my Aunt) when I was barely three. YES, it was so tramatic, I remember it happening at such a young age. First she told me she had to leave for a few days and I freaked out…started crying etc. It was time for bed so she put me to bed and I guess I begged her to stay and sleep with me. She agreed to get me to stop. I guess I made her promise me that she would’nt leave me. Anyway, I remember waking up the next morning and she was GONE. I don’t remember much else other then being devistated. My Mom wasn’t known to make the best parenting choices…but I agree a proper goodbye is key, no matter how hard!

Melanie says:

I just realized that my comment was more for a newborn than 10 month old. Sorry about that. :)

Melanie says:

My daughter is now 22 months old and has been in daycare since she was 14 weeks old. I cried like a baby in anticipation of dropping her off and then cried like a bigger baby on her first day of daycare, after I dropped her off.

I have learned that the transition is always, always harder on me than it is on her. From the first day of daycare to the transitioning of one room to another. She takes each change like a trooper. Kids are much more resilient than we are or than we give them credit for.

You can help him make it an easier transition for him by getting him used to not being held all day long and moving him from bouncer to swing to crib. The usual ration of 4 babies to 1 caregiver gives them enough one on one time with your child but not enough for your baby to be held constantly. If I were you, that is how I would concentrate the next two weeks.

Bottom line is, your baby will do great…and you will adjust. GOOD LUCK!

pam says:

This is hard. My triplets started daycare at 4 months old, but at around 9-10 months, the separation anxiety started. And now they’re 20 months old, and it hasn’t let up. Or I should say it waxes and wanes. Lately it’s gotten kind of bad again. But their teacher at daycare says they don’t cry for long after I leave, which is a relief.

I think the important thing is to say goodbye, not to sneak out or anything. And if you have to stop by in the middle of the day to drop something off, don’t let him see you. Unless you want to go through it all over again. Ugh.

Jennilynn says:

I’m looking forward to the comments too! Rowan starts daycare in another week. Next week is our trial run week. He is only 4 months though so no separation anxiety yet!

ariana says:

Oh, I almost forgot! One thing one of his teachers told me made so much sense: Your instinct may be to “sneak” out in the mornings while he is distracted and not say goodbye, but in the long run it’s better like JBhat said to say a “real goodbye” even if it brings about crying.. the reason is that if you sneak out they learn to be MORE fearful and clingy that at any second they could turn around and you’ll be gone!

I don’t have any suggestions, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading the comments! We had our second baby 2.5 weeks ago, and my husband took 4 weeks of paternity leave. I had a c-section, so almost all of his time is spent with our almost 13-month old boy, since I can’t lift him while I recover. Our son has become VERY attached to his dad during this time, since they’re pretty much attached at the hip. He’s started crying when dad even leaves the room or walks out the door to get something from the car!

Needless to say, I’m so anxious for when my husband goes back to work. Not just for the loss of support at home, but also for our little one’s sake! I can’t wait to hear what your readers say.

jbhat says:

Our kiddo didn’t start going to his child care center until he was about 9 months old. I think the wailing started at about 10 months, now that I think about it. Soon the staff asked me to stop being the one to bring him, because they had noticed that it was a bit harder for him to calm down when I took him in than when my husband did.

The best advice I can offer is what they told us. Give your child a strong, confident good-bye even though your heart may be breaking on the inside when it’s time to leave. They will take care of your baby, and you will be sending your little one the message that you trust that he or she is in good hands. Plus your little one won’t see that you are also distressed by the separation if you act/be strong.

I think it’s really good for kiddos to be with other children and caregivers from an early age. It’s truly hard at first, especially for the mom–someone else is raising my baby!!!–but it really does get better.

Good luck!