Separating from Separation Anxiety

Although I love all the kids I look after, I occasionally complain about the annoying things my “coworkers” do, and one of those things is separation anxiety. Whenever I do this, my mother laughs and tells me that I was the worst kid to leave with a babysitter because all I did was scream and cry the entire time she was gone. I’m sure she’s getting her dose of schadenfreude out of it all, but I actually remember being so, so upset when I was left with a church nursery worker at the age of 2. Nothing made me happy. Nothing would ever make me happy. All I wanted was my mother to come back. I lay in the nursery worker’s arms – and I’m sure she was a very nice and caring soul – but I didn’t care. She wasn’t good enough. I wanted my mom.

Nowadays, I try to keep that in mind when kids I look after go through separation anxiety. It’s actually really healthy for them to do so – it means that they’ve formed attachments to the people in their lives and understand that those people walk in and out. The main thing that an anxious baby needs to understand is that their caregiver will come back – and often they don’t get that until they’re over a year old. I looked after a very adorable little girl who was very, very upset to have a caregiver instead of her mother. I started at the wrong time, to begin with – she had just turned 7 months old and separation anxiety kicks in around that time. She was having none of it – I was just anathema to her. She screamed for hours, refused to eat and nap, and it was generally a miserable time for everyone involved. I eventually had to drop that family, despite me liking them a lot, because I just couldn’t take being screamed at constantly. It was just no fun for anyone. That baby wasn’t ready.

Glo-Worm occasionally has separation anxiety when her mother leaves in the morning, but often it’s only a few minutes of whimpering in my shoulder before she is ready to face the day. I think we transitioned at the best time, because she had just turned a year when she met me and she is very used to me now, and loves me a lot. She even has separation anxiety when I leave in the evenings! Diva and Footballer, at 13 months, are now starting to show signs of separation anxiety when their parents leave, despite the fact that I have been looking after them since they were 3 weeks old. It’s mostly Diva who cries when her parents leave, and she gets over it fairly quickly as well.

It took me a long time to realize that it’s not that babies with separation anxiety hate me, it’s that they are having issues with the idea that people can leave and come back. It’s confusing to them. But, with time, most babies get over that stage fairly quickly and are fine with people they love coming and going. Now, Diva still cries a bit, but not for 10 or 15 minutes. More like 3 or 4 minutes. Same with Glo-Worm. It’s easy to deal with and I find that I am more easily sympathetic instead of wondering when my shift will end because of crying. It really does wear on you!

You can’t stop separation anxiety, but you can help it. Often it’s about security, and though my arms might fall off, I’ll hold a baby until he or she is ready to be put down. Sometimes that’s the whole time, and in that case, we’ll sit and read books, watch TV, or do other low-key activities that doesn’t require the baby to be out of my arms. Sometimes babies can be easily distracted by toys or other items that they might not get to see or play with regularly. This can help to make them forget about their missing loved ones for at least a few hours. Going out of the house often helps, too – they are sufficiently stimulated and distracted enough to forget about Mommy being at work. And lastly, sometimes a nap will help. Sometimes it won’t, but I find that normally, the same person who puts a baby down and gets them up can create a more stable environment and situation for a baby, which makes them more likely to be calm and receptive to being away from their mothers.

As a nanny, I remember to take breaks, too. A baby crying for hours on end is extremely upsetting and can be annoying after awhile. I need to remember to keep my sympathy strong and my annoyance at a dull roar. Often this takes place with me taking time outs – I’ll put the baby in a safe place, like a playpen or crib, and go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. It’s enough for me to reset and push my upset and annoyed feelings away, and then lets me go back, fresh, to look after the upset little one. They can’t help crying, but I can’t help my emotions, either. Giving myself that time to get over it or to reset my brain can really help me deal with a prolonged period of crying. And if the situation isn’t improving after a few weeks, I know that the family is just not ready for a nanny, and needs to wait until their little one can handle being away from Mommy and Daddy better. Normally we can try again in a few months.

What do you do to help separation anxiety?

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