Between about 10-18 months, there’s a peak in separation anxiety, based on your baby’s newfound independence from you. She can now walk away from you…get around the house by herself, even lose sight of you as she explores. As exciting as that is, it also scares the daylights out of her. If she can go away from you…then you can certainly go away from her…and so you do when you leave her with a babysitter or at daycare.
Even if you trust the babysitter or daycare, it’s worthwhile to ask them if there was a bossy kid around her one day? Or perhaps she witnessed a tearful separation with another child and parent? Anything to give you a clue. Use the caregivers as a resource; ask them for suggestions and advice.
But the bottom line is this: Your child is facing a really difficult life lesson in separation and reunification.
It’s important that you help her through it by being supportive, but not denying that separations will occur. She’s still not 100% sure that you will return when you do go away from her. And there’s no way to learn but through experience.
Plus you don’t want to give her the message that her tears will be so powerful that she can control important adult activities. Having supportive daycare people, plus an understanding parent, will help her to learn this important life lesson and skill in a way that will help her deal with the issue productively in the future.
You can be very understanding with her about it: Talk with her frequently about what you see as her fears. Be reassuring. Remind her that you will return. Tell her you know she might cry a little. But her caregiver Ms. So-and-So will be there to help her feel better while you’re away. And then when you return, you’ll both be so happy!
Talk to the teacher first, to let her know you expect a reaction from your daughter. Plan it out in advance. Don’t try to sneak out. Be upfront and matter-of-fact with your child about it. "I know you’ll be sad, but you’ll be fine. See you soon!" And then leave. If you must, listen by the door, or have someone check in on her after 5 minutes. I almost guarantee she’ll be fine after a few minutes of tears.
More Answers from Heather Wittenberg, PhD