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October 19th, 2015

We came to the decision to hire a nanny for our daughter. We thought we had found the perfect nanny. We imagined Nanny Mary, with her beautiful smile and fun ideas for play, would bring immediate joy, accelerated development, and perfect routine to our little girls life. What we didn’t consider was no matter the nanny, teacher or other caregiver, if the child does not want to cooperate or leave mummies side, the process will be extremely stressful for child, nanny, mummy.

While in most cases the vision of child bonding with nanny and loving nanny within a week becomes a reality, in some circumstances the transition of an old to new caregiver or a child having their first caregiver can be extremely difficult and upsetting - the adjustment phase may not be as easy as you had hoped.

Day one: Nanny Mary walked in the front door and our 2 year old was happy to play with her, even content to do to the park. They returned home, I was not there. No problem, mummy is home soon.

Day two: Goes much like day one, although 2 year old seems a little nervous when I leave the room.

Day three: Nanny Mary arrives, 2 year old remembers Nanny Mary = Mummy going out. Suddenly Nanny Mary is not welcome. 2 year old screams and cries, attaches herself to my leg, wont let me leave. I worry, is Nanny Mary really the kind person her previous employer of 8 years believes? Then I remember, my 2 year old has the same issue with my mother.

We speak to a GP and find out our daughter has separation anxiety so this is going to be something we have to work through with Nanny Mary.

So, how do you manage a situation when your child is upset every time the Nanny  arrives?

As any parent we want the best for our daughter, and the best we believe is helping them to enjoy the company of others apart from mummy. Also mummy needs to be able to do things alone sometimes. We also realized that being comfortable with new people and new environments is important to enjoying school as a 4 and 5 year old.

We decided the best course of action was to spend a week with Nanny Mary, mummy and toddler together, so our daughter became familiar with Nanny Mary while safe in mummy’s company. This allowed Nanny Mary to learn our daughters likes, dislikes, favourite foods, games, what makes her laugh. It allowed me to witness the bond between Nanny and our child grow.

If you are happy with the safety & well being of your child but the tears are still continuing to flow each time they arrive and you depart, you can put a plan in place to help your child get over their separation anxiety. Alex Barzvi, Ph.D., clinical director of the New York University Child Study Centre’s Institute for Anxiety and Mood Disorders suggests a few tips to help your little ones adjust to a parent leaving.

Start early

Leave your child with a relative or caregiver at an early age.  "You want someone else to hold and talk to your kid a little differently. These experiences may minimize her anxiety later on when you're not around” (Barzvi)

Keep your goodbyes short

“Goodbye James, Mummy will see you after lunch” is all you need to say before you depart. Prolonging the goodbye will only make the child think there is something to be concerned about.

Let your body language match your words

Although inside you are crying, put a smile on your face and wave as you leave. "Your child can sense your confidence as you walk out the door," Cooper says (co author of I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy! Why You Shouldn't Say It....)

Create a goodbye ritual

This can be anything from a kiss on each cheek to a goodbye song. A ritual provides security & routine for a child.

Provide an ETA

Your child may not have any idea about what 3 o’clock means, but they may have an understanding of lunch. So you can tell your child “mummy or daddy will be back after lunch”. Its important to keep those promises as tempting as it is to stretch the time out, at some stage they will realize and can result in a lack of trust says Sara Abbot, associate director of the Family Resource Counseling Centre.

Although separation anxiety can be emotionally draining on both the parents & the child it is important to remember “Separation anxiety is completely normal, even healthy. From the earliest years of life, we should want children to encounter ordinary adversity because it's practice for building resilience," (Cooper).

We hope these small steps and words of advice will help your little one overcome any separation anxiety they may have and allow them to build happy and healthy relationships with their caregivers and peers.

- Sarah Cook

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