Michele Borba answers your parenting questions right here on her blog. If you have a parenting problem or question leave a comment on this post and you may have yours answered.
I'm starting back to work a couple days a week and I'm in a panic. My toddler clings and cries so hard when I leave just to go to the grocery store that breaks my heart. Is there anyway to help my daughter feel more secure now? Thank you! --Susan M., from Reno Nevada
Leaving our children when we know they feel insecure is heartbreaking. But there are solutions you can do now to help ease the pain and help your toddler feel more secure in your absence. The key is to slowly start implementing these tips way several weeks before you have to finally go back to work. The first tip is to make sure your child has a security object of some type.
Here are a few tips to help you help your toddler feel more secure in your absence:
Step 1. PREPARE YOUR TODDLER FOR SHORT GOODBYES
Provide a "lovey." Give a security blanket, cuddly stuffed animal or some kind of "security substitute" for your baby to use in your absence. It is a way for your toddler to soothe herself when you're not there.
Create secure transitions. Start several weeks before you leave by practicing good-byes with your toddler. Start with just saying goodbye when it's just the two of you. Then just leave a bit to go to the next room and pop back in with a big hello. Your baby will begin to realize "Mommy does return."
Step 2. GRADUALLY INTRODUCE THE CHILD TO THE CAREGIVER
Find a caregiver now. Help your child learn to trust the caregiver with the three of you together. Just little doses of getting to know the new giver ahead of time will help when the official goodbye finally comes. The sitter, you and toddler can do brief little activities together. Your goal is to allow the sitter to slowly have more and more alone time with your toddler.
Pass on what works to your caregiver. You know your child better than anyone. So pass on your child's special signals to that sitter. What works to soothe your child? What is your child's sleep, eating and play routine? What comforts your child? If your child speaks or uses sign, translate any words that only you know to your sitter. If you are dropping your child off to the sitter's home, bring a few of your child's comfort objects to the sitters.
Record your voice. Sing your toddler's favorite song or reading Goodnight Moon or Pat the Bunny or other favorite song so the caregiver can play it when you leave. The next time you're singing with your baby just push the record button on that tape recorder. Then leave it with baby-sitter or grandma to use. This idea works especially well if you have to leave on a longer trip.
Step 3. THE RIGHT WAY TO SAY GOOD-BYE
Don't dawdle or give in. Your toddler's tears and wails can wear you down. But studies find your toddler's anxiety will actually increase if you draw out your separation or make too big of a deal about your leaving. So be definite about leaving -and no changing your mind. Older toddlers are smart and will quickly figure out what antics will work, and will pull those next time around to make you stay.
Hold back the tears. Your distress will distress your child. A young child can read your sad concerned emotions and copy them. It's best to have a cool and confident approach (even if you have to fake it). That look will be easier on your child.
Don't sneak out. Doing so only increases your child's anxiety. Say goodbye and then do leave.
Cuddle, hug when you return. Greet your toddler when you return. "Mommy's back!" Then cuddle. Coo. Tickle. Hug. Play fingerplays. Sing. But if you stick to that same positive send off routine and then your "Mommy's back" return, your child will slowly come to recognize that you are coming back and feel more and more secure in your absence.