As young children grow and develop, they become more aware of the adults in their lives. Around 9 months of age, children learn how to distinguish one caregiver from another. When you get ready to leave your 9-month-old with her child care provider, she knows you are leaving. At the same time, she does not have enough experience in the world to realize that you will come back, so she feels anxiety. Many infants show this anxiety by crying, clinging or throwing a temper tantrum.
Even though your child's crying and clinging may be frustrating, these responses are actually a positive sign that she is developing normally. Your child's separation anxiety shows that she has developed a strong bond with her parents and feels concerned when you are out of site. Children are also learning the routine when their parents leave and then come back for them later.
Having a clear separation routine may help reduce your child's anxiety. When you arrive at the child care program, help your child get settled. Find an activity and help him or her get involved in playing. Let your child know that you plan to leave in five minutes to help him get ready for the separation. When it's time to leave, say goodbye before you leave, and remind your child that you will be back later. Use a calm, confident tone. Once you leave, don't go back to check on him. Keep walking even if you hear him cry. Trust your child care provider to take good care of your child until you return. If you are uncomfortable, you can check in by phone later on.
It's important to always tell your child goodbye before you leave. Slipping out unnoticed might seem easier, but your child is likely to be even more upset when she realizes you are gone. Saying goodbye establishes the pattern that you will be back and helps build her trust in you. In some cases, children do better if they can wave to their parents from the window or door while the parents are leaving.
The good news is that separation anxiety is a temporary stage. Be patient with the tears. Reassure your child that you will be back soon and come back when you promised to return. Over time, your child will relax as she learns to trust that you will return.
To learn more about helping children in child care handle anxiety and other emotions, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: