Sometimes a parent (usually Dad) spends time with the 2- to 4-year old child before leaving for work.

However, after leaving, sometimes, the child cries nonstop (1 to 2 hours). Everything you offer during this period is refused, and there is a fixation on (whoever left).

What are some ways to handle this situation, knowing that favorite toys (even new, stocked up toys) etc. are refused?

Is it better for Daddy to leave in the morning without being seen?

  • 1
    How old is the child? – Péter Török Jan 14 '12 at 19:19
  • Say between 2-4 – bobobobo Jan 14 '12 at 23:23
  • Excellent question and answers. We're facing the same where out child has separation anxiety for over a year now – shinynewbike May 20 '14 at 9:57

10 Answers 10

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Part of your job as a parent is to introduce realistic expectations for your child when the world does certain things. Mommy, Daddy or both will probably need to be inaccessible for protracted amounts of time in order to work, even if one or both don't leave the house to do so. I kind of think 'vanishing' dodges that, at any age .. but we all lose idealism when our kids get really upset.

Depending on the age of your child, books like this one can help a bit, but what works the best (if your child has reached the age of conversation) is not excusing your absence, but explaining it. Turn on a light switch, for instance and explain that if you don't go to work, the light might not work for very long. Take out a box of pancake mix, make some and explain that if you did not go to work, there might not be so many pancakes. Then involve your child and let them come up with ways to help you go to work, or vanish in your home office for hours.

The trick is not to instill some sort of trepidation in the child, they should not be worrying about your job, so take special care to discuss work related hiccups when your child is not around. Make it a positive thing. Tell your child how what you do makes something better, talk about your work friends, bring home random office supplies as gifts and make it a point to introduce 'special' events when things go well at work.

Again, this depends entirely on the age of your child, but I'm quite sure bits of it could be adapted to fit your current problem :)

  • WOW, there's a whole book on that.. thanks – bobobobo Jan 14 '12 at 23:22
  • What do you mean by "vanishing"? – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 16 '12 at 10:05
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun Deliberately leaving the house at a time when the child won't notice. – Tim Post Jan 16 '12 at 11:11
  • 4
    Yes avoid vanishing at all costs. Kids have to learn that you leave sometimes but that you are true to word and come back. – OliverS Jan 23 '12 at 13:00

First of all, do not sneak off. I simply cannot stress this enough. I may sound 'sky is falling' but it's absolutely true that doing so regularly could lead to abandonment issues. You have to say bye, and he has to know it's coming and he has to get used to it.

I think the sitter should start with routine. Soon as you're out the door, it's time to start the morning routine. Not food, cuz that's just asking for a mess, but something interactive. Maybe reading, playing with blocks, drawing, whatever. and the sitter should do that REGARDLESS of the kids interaction. if the kid is crying, remind them every minute or so... "come on down from there and lets read this book."

of course, you'll get the arched back and the painful screaming because all they want to do right now is cry. "Daddy's gone to work, he'll be back later. but we have a puzzle here we can work on."

that's my suggestion. none of my kids ever did this, but i've known those that did.

  • Well, I don't mean sneak off, but make sure to leave without waking them up. – bobobobo Jan 16 '12 at 18:15
  • Don't leave without saying goodbye unless the they truly need the sleep. – morah hochman Jan 17 '12 at 15:57
  • This answer is exactly what I would do, I can't up vote it enough! – morah hochman Jan 17 '12 at 15:57

First, it depends on the child's age and maturity. I think the parent can preper the child for what is about to happen by narrating the near future in a way the child can understand. for instance: "mommy will play with you now, and then mommy will give you a big hug and three kisses and will go. you will stay with daddy, and when it is dark outside mommy will come back"

it is important to follow the narration as closely as possible, and to keep reminding the child what's coming up next. e.g "now I go, I will come back when it is dark outside".

when children know what is going to happen they become more secure and less anxious.

Separation anxiety in children is a function of our culture. In other societies where the child is raised within a large group, and care is often passed on from one family member to another, the child rarely reacts to the absence of a parent. It's a fairly easy Google search to find many anthropological studies that reflect this.

The lesson we can draw from other cultures is the value of introducing your child to many other people. You can setup play dates for times when daddy is not home, or go out for a different social activity. This way you can allow the child to view the father going off to work not as a scary loss, but an opportunity for increased interactions.

I agree with a lot of some of the suggestions others have shared, like warning them ahead of time. Here is something I don't think others have presented:

When my son or daughter is very upset about something, I explore that feeling and experience with them as much as possible. I sit with them and acknowledge they are upset. (If they let me get close to them) I will comfort them physically. I use observations like, "I can see you are upset", and comments like, "You really want mommy", etc. I ask them questions such as, "Are you upset?", or "Do you want Mommy to hold you?", or "You want to eat mommy's breakfast?" I continue with this mode of welcoming and accepting of their experience continually as they are crying, etc waiting for my child to shift and reciprocate back to me in some affirmative way "Are you upset" : "Yes!" (while still crying).

This accomplishes 2 things: 1) affirm how they are feeling and 2) introduce tools for using words to express how they feel (instead of just crying). You can even have fun with your questions like, "You want mommy to hold you forever and ever and ever?", or "You want to eat all of daddy's breakfast?" The best outcome is that they are able to use words to describe how they feel and for you to be welcoming of that. There is no 'solution' to your child's problem without FIRST just empathizing and allowing them to be heard. After that, you may find that that is all they needed.

I think society's general approach is to distract from these feelings, but this can have the underlying current of rejecting how your child feels and not giving them the chance to express that. Trying to come up with distractions such as breakfast, a book, or some other routine may seem fine, but when we are inclined to avoid uncomfortable feelings, we need to go out of our way to accept and welcome them as a normal part of being human.

An important point that goes along with my suggestions is that your child (younger than 5) is not a rational person like you are. They don't have the intellectual mind that can rationalize and reason- they are very much in the present moment feeling whatever they are feeling. Therefore, trying to reason with them will be particularly frustrating.

I want to emphasize, the goal is to be totally accepting of those 'unreasonable' feelings. Obviously your child's father must go to work. You don't need to explain that (I think it is healthy to say it, but I wouldn't spend much time trying to justify it). Instead explore their feelings as much as possible. And when they calm down, that is when you need to go even further with exploring how they are feeling, because now they have the capacity to deeply acknowledge how they are/were feeling without being totally overwhelmed by it. I think it is tempting to be thankful they have finally let go of it, finally stopped crying and just not bring it up again. But this is the perfect time to re-acknowledge everything they were upset about and continue to introduce the words they can use to verbalize their feelings.

TLDR: Don't try to prevent the crying. Embrace it and explore their feelings with them. Introduce words/phrases/sentences they can use to verbalize how they are feeling. Continue this even after they have calmed down (as they now have more presence of mind to learn how to verbalize).

When my little girl started nursery (daycare) I was told to give her a hug/kiss and say goodbye to her and tell her I'd be back later. As others have advised, I always explained to her where I was going and that I would be coming back. Then when I came to pick her up I'd show how much I'd missed her and cuddle/kiss her.

This was advice given by the nursery staff. I know it's not exactly the same as your situation, but she now loves going to nursery and is aware that I have to work (she will so "mummy gone to work") and rarely cries when I leave her unless she is ill.

I have found that taking my 18 month old son out to the car with daddy when he is about to leave relieves the issue. I hope this helps :)

What works for us is to set expectations far ahead of time.

in the evening: Tomorrow is a work day, daddy will leave for work before/after you have had breakfast (or whenever). He will be back tomorrow night by dinner time.

In the morning: I will leave soon/after breakfast, today is a work day. (repeat, countdown). I will be back by dinner time.

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT. Set expectations.

Point out differences when not working: Tomorrow is not a workday, I am not going to work. I am going to be home all day/I am going to run errands in after lunch/etc

Again, set expectations, and do not think because they understood yesterday means they understand today.

If someone has to leave for business travel, we talk about it days ahead. Every day we repeat that mommy/daddy is not home tonight, and when they will be home.

Of course it is important to try and do your best to live up to these expectations.

I am unsure if your child attends daycare, but I will answer assuming so..

Unfortunately, over certain amounts of time spent in daycare has negative long term consequences such as separation anxiety. Children are not meant to be left with strangers that get paid to watch them and 29 other kids. They are meant to have a loving mother or father at all times until the age of about 5.

Here is a well-documented presentation: The Mommy Wars | Is Stay-at-Home Parenting Worth It?

  • I can answer this both ways. As an adult who was in a creche and day care before the age of 1; yes I had my share of seperation anxieties.Simply because I did not get enough care or attension during my early years. As a parent; I took up a job to offer flexibility and we took turns so that one parent was always around until my son turned 1.2 years old. Now as a parent of a 2.8 year old - my child goes to preschool and day care ( with less than 10 children) he is loved and well taken care off. I pick him atleast 5 hours before his bed time and spend an hour in the morning when he wakes up :) – bhavs Sep 22 '17 at 8:46

I have 3 children, a 6 year old daughter, an 8 year old daughter and a 7 year old son. The 6 year old holds the anxiety towards mommy leaving. I find that letting her know what's happening hours before she leaves (gymnastics with my other 2 children, she has a class by herself a different day) is the best way to soften the blow. She still cries when they all go, which is understandable. I ignore the cries for a little while, then I suggest some activities that keep her busy. The anxiety has went down a lot since I started this.

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