Coping with Separation Anxiety
By Elizabeth Hawksworth
When starting a new nanny job for a parent who works from home, I have often found myself in the following predicament. The baby will cry, the mother or father comes running in to “save her,” the baby calms down in the parent’s arms, but she immediately begins to cry when she’s handed back to me. Repeat this scenario several times throughout the day and by the end of the day and the parents and I are completely frazzled.
I know how hard it is for parents to leave their child with a new nanny for the first time. I know they are only trying to help me to calm their crying infant. But, my nanny confession this week is that separation anxiety is one of my toughest challenges in my line of work and I need to be able to make my own mistakes in order to be a great nanny to the child.
I know it’s tempting for parents to run in to help when they hear their baby cry. But when parents do this, they are showing their little one that they don’t trust me to take care of their child. In fact, parents are inadvertently rewarding their child for crying by giving her attention every time she cries. Instead, the child needs to learn that I can meet her needs. This means that I need to be able to tend to the infant myself so that I can earn her trust.
When I first start working for a new family I ask the parents to set a timer. If after five-minutes or so, the child isn't calming down, I welcome them to come in and help me. But, I urge them to not come in until at least five-minutes have passed. If the parents hear the child calming down, then I ask that they not get involved at all. This teaches the child that I’m someone that can tend to her needs and soothe her, and gradually, she’ll stop calling for the parents altogether.
This is a transition that can be tough on everyone, but it does eventually work and get better. I have not met a baby I couldn’t eventually calm down!
What are your tried-and-true methods for calming children down as a parent or as a nanny? How do you deal with your own separation anxiety issues?