Is it worth quitting my job to avoid separation anxiety for yound kids?
September 29, 2011 4:03 AM   Subscribe

Ask people who knows child developmental psychology stuff about separation anxiety for 1 yr old. Will there be permanent damage to the kid?

My 1 yr old was cared for by loving grandparents. But now they had to stop doing that cause they need to go back to their own home after 6 months. I have the option of quit my job and care for my kid myself or put him to daycare. I have tried putting him for two days, but he cried so much that the lady who cares him decided not to do that cause it's too stressful for her. Now my son is super afraid of me out of site. I know that kids can get over the separation anxiety eventually, but I have the feeling that their psych will have permanent marks from this traumatic experience. So for people who know, is this really bad for the kids? My friends all say that the kids will be ok and it might even be good for them, even though it'll be a tough time for about a month. But I want to do the best I can for my kids. Will this affect the personality of the kids for the rest of their lives? Maybe it depends on each kid's personality and genetic background? What are solid research data on this topic? Thanks
posted by akomom to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There will not be permanent damage. Kids need to learn to trust people besides their parents and that others can take care of them, too.

Separation anxiety is normal at that age and can even happen with kids who've attended daycare since three months old when they gt dropped off at that age.

What you're going to be interested in terms of research is temprament and attachment patterns --- NOT to be confused with attachment parenting. Out of date as it is, Piaget's cognitive stages for basic understanding of development is pretty solid.
posted by zizzle at 4:44 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your baby will absolutely forgive you. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that this will not even be a blip on their radar, unless something catastrophic happens (and that is unlikely to happen). I know it's so hard to leave a child crying for you, but they do settle. And you have all that other time with them. They'll be fine. So will you.
posted by h00py at 5:54 AM on September 29, 2011

Your baby will cry a bit when you drop him off and a good daycare provider will know how to console him. He will gradually get used to being dropped off and won't cry as much, and then not at all. It will not hurt him in the long run and you should not worry about it. (I'm a mother and a grandmother and a researcher.)

When you start looking for a daycare provider ask each one you visit how they would handle this kind of behavior. They should tell you that they will hold him, talk to him, try to distract him with toys or books or singing. They might also ask if he has a comfort blanket, a favorite toy, a pacifier, a song, or something else that soothes him.

A good daycare provider should know all about separation anxiety and should be able to reassure you.
posted by mareli at 6:26 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it helps, my little boy (now 2) went into daycare after being solely cared for by grammy at about 1 year old. He definitely cried a lot at first, did your daycare lady (I'm assuming it's a home daycare given your description, centers usually don't get stressed out by crying kids) have you do a graduated entry or did you leave him all day starting with the first day? We did that at the first daycare and it went poorly, but the second one we did a more graduated entry (only a couple hours the first day, with me in the building in case they needed me, then half day, then full day) and mine took to that better (plus the second place was way more fun). You have completely NOT ruined your kid. This will take time, but your son will be able to go to daycare once you find one that can handle a little separation anxiety.

As far as psychologically, separation anxiety is completely normal and is why it is suggested to limit the number of care providers so that the kid can become comfortable with them, but this in no way means limit to just yourself. Piaget does give a good understanding of basic development, and there's been a lot of research done on attachment (NOT attachment parenting like zizzle says (not that there is anything wrong with attachment parenting, but it's not the same thing)), and as long as kids feel their needs are getting met by someone who can provide comfort (be it mom, grandparents, or daycare) they will form secure bonds and be find and secure adults. If you want actual studies, this is the guy who did the most famous stuff with monkeys and surrogate moms Harry Harlow, and he found what I summarized above.

Deep breaths, research providers a little more, find someone you trust who knows what to do with separate anxiety, and your little boy will be great. If it makes you feel better, my 2 year old (who was the exact same as yours) loves his daycare now and runs off to play as soon as we get there and cares less about whether I'm there or not (though he is still happy to see me when I pick him up).
posted by katers890 at 6:33 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

My youngest (of four - she's now 21) used to cry whenever I dropped her off anywhere - grandma's, daycare, at a friend's house for a sleep-over. Then she would cry when I came to pick her up because she didn't want to leave the people she was with! These went on well into her teens. People would ask me all of the time if it would be better for her to stay home. I'd tell them to giver her a few minutes to adjust and she would be fine. They gave her a few minutes, she was fine. She's still fine. Your kid will be fine too. It's been my experience that the bigger deal one makes of this, the more the child will cry. As someone mentioned above - distraction is the name of the game.
posted by patheral at 6:34 AM on September 29, 2011

You're going to have separation anxiety at whatever age you start separating. Now or later.

To a certain degree, it's just him telling you not to go. He probably stops crying about 30 seconds after you're out of sight. If you make a big deal about it he'll figure out that twisting the knife harder pays off. Dropping separation anxious kids off at daycare is best if you do it predictably and without a lot of emotion hullabaloo. Get it over with. You can't stay there and console them because what you're doing is building up their stamina. Go in, sit down for a prescribed amount of time with them (a minute or two), then hand them off directly to a caregiver (preferably the same one every day) and leave. The last thing any parent should do is get into some cycle where you're training a kid to cry longer and longer each day. It feels heartless, but you can't give in.

Our eldest cried almost every day we dropped him off... for two years. Every day was awful for about 3 minutes. He literally had to be peeled off of us. It wasn't an act, exactly, but you could come back a minute later and he'd be happily playing with a friend. He was just trying to control the situation, and when he (finally) figured out he couldn't, he stopped. A couple years on and it's fine now. I promise you he is unaffected by it. Totally happy, well adjusted kid who bounds up the stairs to his classroom every morning.

Kids want control, and you need to give them a lot. Enough that the feel genuinely empowered. However, you ALWAYS need to be cognizant of the fact that they're constantly trying to get the upper hand. It's a never ending tug of war. You just gotta power through some things.
posted by pjaust at 6:57 AM on September 29, 2011

I was a nanny for a little one with pretty dire separation anxiety relating to his mom. He would scream his head off and act like he was in a total panic, starting when he was around 18 months and continuing until about 3 years.

Pretty much as soon as the door closed behind mom he would forget what he was upset about. She would be anxious and upset about it the entire day, but really, once she was gone, he calmed down and we played blocks and it was fine. It's harder on you than on him.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The amygdala is a fairly mature brain area at birth in humans and seems to be fully mature at least as early as a child's first birthday. All anatomical evidence suggests that by the end of the first year, young children should be capable of experiencing psychologically driven fear, anxiety, and stress. Indeed, fear reactions to strangers (Bronson, 1971; Schaffer, 1966; Waters et al., 1975) and anxiety reactions to separation from familiar caregivers (Ainsworth and Bell, 1970; Bowlby, 1973; Sroufe, 1979) are hallmarks of emotional development in late infancy. Brief periods of stress are not expected to be problematic. Indeed, survival requires the capacity to mount a stress response. However, because the stress system functions to put growth-oriented processes on hold, frequent or prolonged periods of stress may negatively affect development."
-- From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development (the whole book's available online)

"Stressful events can be harmful, tolerable, or beneficial, depending on how much of a bodily stress response they provoke and how long the response lasts... Positive stress refers to moderate, short-lived stress responses, such as brief increases in heart rate or mild changes in the body’s stress hormone levels. This kind of stress is a normal part of life, and learning to adjust to it is an essential feature of healthy development. Adverse events that provoke positive stress responses tend to be those that a child can learn to control and manage well with the support of caring adults, and which occur against the backdrop of generally safe, warm, and positive relationships. The challenge of meeting new people, dealing with frustration, entering a new child care setting, getting an immunization, and overcoming a fear of animals all can be positive stressors if a child has the support needed to develop a sense of mastery. This is an important part of the normal developmental process... Those who experience the benefits of secure relationships have a more controlled stress hormone reaction when they are upset or frightened. This means that they are able to explore the world, meet challenges, and be frightened at times without sustaining the adverse neurological impacts of chronically elevated levels of hormones such as cortisol that increase reactivity of selected brain systems to stress and threat... Research has shown that the presence of a sensitive and responsive caregiver can prevent elevations in cortisol among toddlers, even in children who tend to be temperamentally fearful or anxious."
-- Harvard University Center on the Developing Child (one of several working papers they have up)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:47 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seperation anxiety is going to happen- would you rather he be 1 or go through it when he is 5 on his first day of Kindergarden?

It is harder on you than him, always will be
posted by Frosted Cactus at 8:21 AM on September 29, 2011

My daughter started daycare at 6 weeks. About one year old, she started having crying fits whenever we left her at the daycare. She had the same teachers the entire time, it was just an age thing. I think they start to realize what is happening and are trying to get mommy or daddy to stay by crying, because they love you!

She is now a little over 19 months and still cries sometimes when we drop her off. I've left the daycare in tears sometimes. BUT....if I would walk away out of sight, and listen for about 2 minutes, she would completely calm down and start playing with other teachers and kids. A good teacher will know to come take your crying child from you, comfort them, try to get them interested in something else, and let you leave feeling somewhat better. Honestly, I'm not sure the caregiver you had was experienced enough to handle it. Every teacher I've encountered knows how this works.

Being a working mom, or a stay at home mom, is a tough decision, but I don't think you should make it based on the notion of separation anxiety. If you want to stay home with your child, I think that is wonderful. But crying when being dropped off at daycare is very, very common and does not necessitate leaving your job.

Also, as a side note, I just want to say that I am super happy with our decision to send our child to daycare. It has helped her develop some great social skills, and she is being watched by professionals that know how to teach her and know warning signs of trouble, developmental issues, etc. It also lets her know there are many other children around, she is not the total center of the universe. And, she'll be better prepared for kindergarten. Of course, there are many days when I'd like to pick her up and play all day!
posted by fyrebelley at 8:44 AM on September 29, 2011

Oh, one more thing...try to stop by later in the day and observe your child at the daycare without them seeing you. You will see that they are happily playing by themselves or others. I think that should help put your mind at ease.
posted by fyrebelley at 8:46 AM on September 29, 2011

Agreeing with all of the above folks that separation anxiety is absolutely normal at this age, and having it be it bit worse after a few big changes in his routine is also absolutely to be expected. Just wanted to point out one more thing too...Some of the reaction can be a response to how you are handling this . You are a model for your little one, so if you approach this situation with a lot of anxiety ("Am I doing permanent damage to my child?") he can sense that and picks up on the fact that this must be a bad/dangerous situation. If you instead think about how positive this is going to be ("you'll get to play! There are lots of wonderful friends! Your caregiver is so nice and will take good care of you!") he might feel less worried about being separated too. Doing the graduated entry makes a lot of sense and you can start with even leaving for 10 minutes, or 1/2 an hour or something like that so he knows you always come back. The vast majority of the time, kids do truly stop crying in a few minutes, and may totally stop getting upset after a few weeks. Hang in there, it will get better!
posted by goggie at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2011

I worked in a daycare for two years--separation anxiety is normal, and no big deal. 2 weeks (not just two days) of crying every morning is pretty normal. The vast majority of children settle in after that. If your kid is the rare one who can't, your daycare provider will tell you. He'll still be able to go back when he's a bit older. Here are some tips for reducing separation anxiety:

Tour the daycare with your kid. Or go for several short visits together. He'll be able to experience it in a fun way, with you there, and when you drop him off, the place will be familiar.

Leave firmly. Say "I'm going to play with you here for 10 minutes, then I'm going to work. I'll be back to get you at (the time you set)." Then leave on time. A lot of parents keep relenting when the kid cries, and staying 10 minutes longer, but that's not good--it freaks the parent out and keeps the kid from settling. Kids usually chill out as soon as their parent is gone.

Stay away until pickup time. Observing your kid without them seeing you is OK, but please don't drop in for 10 minutes and then leave again without them. Many parents want to do this, but I cannot stress enough how disruptive it is. It's also upsetting for the other children, who expect all the parents to arrive when one does. Stick to your set time, unless there's an emergency, like dropping off medication.

Your kid will not be psychologically damaged, I promise. One of my daycare students had awful separation anxiety for weeks on end--she is now a happy, well-adjusted 5-year-old who is very compassionate with younger kids, and doesn't get anxious anymore.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 2:03 PM on September 29, 2011

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