Managing Separation Anxiety When Handing Over to a Sitter

Mar 12, 2024 | Parents

Whether it’s the first time, or the 10th time, the anxiety that comes with handing childcare over to a babysitter can be a lot for a parent and a child, particularly if your child tends to struggle with the idea of separation. Bambino Sitters sat down with Family Coach and owner of ‘Raising with Care’, Ally Johnson to discuss practical tools to manage separation anxiety and ways create a smooth handover from a parent to a Sitter. 

Ally has a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education (and Deaf education), she is deeply ingrained in childhood development and understands that all parents need a community that’s not just driven by milestones. Ally focuses on providing individualized resources and fostering discussions that empower parents to make informed decisions and cultivate meaningful connections with their children. 

Let’s hear what she has to share on the topic of working with babysitters. 

When managing a child that doesn’t cope well with separation, how far in advance should I tell my child that we have a babysitter coming?

“The first thing I like to tell parents is that it doesn’t matter if it’s the babysitter, grandparent or a friend, go low stakes first then high stakes. Starting with low-stakes situations, like leaving your child with a trusted family member or friend, can really help establish that comfort level. Repeating this allows all of us, parent and child, to practice the knowledge that you will come back to them.

When it comes to introducing a babysitter, consider your child’s temperament and also your own instincts. Some children need several days’ notice, while others adapt quickly with shorter notice. Typically, a two-day notice period suffices for most children. Clear communication can really help to alleviate anxiety. By gradually introducing new experiences, parents can help children feel more secure in unfamiliar caregiving situations.”

What are some examples of effective language to use when reassuring a child at a babysitter handoff?

“So, using the same phrases can help to create a comforting ritual, especially in unfamiliar situations. For instance, dropping off your child at school can be daunting, so I’ve seen encouraging parents to set a routine with a mantra can ease their anxiety.

You can create a simple phrase to repeat every day before school drop-offs, such as “Have fun, learn a lot, be kind. (Insert name) will pick you up after school.” By consistently using this phrase, your child’s brain will learn to predict what will happen and feel more secure over time.

In the context of introducing a babysitter, reassuring phrases like “Mommy and Daddy will come back” or “You are safe and loved” would be good phrases to use. Adding the babysitter’s name can also personalize the message and reinforce your child’s sense of security.

It’s important to resist the urge to overcomplicate things. Stick to a few comforting phrases and maintain consistency.”

What are some unhelpful behaviors to avoid when leaving my child with a babysitter?

“As an experienced preschool teacher, I’ve observed common behaviors that can make a smooth departure really tricky. One crucial behavior to avoid is lingering, which is so hard when your child is crying or expressing emotions. But by hesitating to leave, you are indicating to your child that you may not trust their caretaker which will immediately make your child feel uneasy.

Using phrases like “It’ll be okay” or “You’ll be fine” can also be unhelpful. Instead, reassure your child with statements like “You are safe, and Mommy will be back,” while showing genuine confidence in the babysitter.

Showing confidence and excitement about their time with the babysitter can positively impact your child’s emotional response. By providing genuine reassurance, you can help your child feel safe with the babysitter.”

What happens when I’ve tried these tactics and they just don’t work?

“When all strategies seem to fall short, it’s important to remain patient and consistent. When I work with families, I often advise them to stick to the plan for at least two weeks. Consistency is key, and it may take some time for the child to adjust.

If after this period there’s still no improvement, it’s time to revisit the plan. However, it’s worth noting that sporadic interactions with babysitters can prolong the adjustment period. Therefore, maintaining regularity in babysitting arrangements (if that is an option for you) can definitely help.”

What should I do if I have a child that gets extremely dysregulated?

“This is really common and it’s incredibly hard for any parent to see their child distressed. Firstly, I would ensure clear communication with the babysitter beforehand. Inform them of your routine and any potential challenges your child may face, such as crying or resistance during separation. Setting expectations allows the sitter to prepare and respond appropriately.

One option could be to consider introducing a transition object. This could be an item from home that provides comfort to the child during distressing moments. It could be something of yours, like a bracelet or anything safe you know your child will treasure. You can suggest they hold onto it during your absence until you get home. It can help them feel connected to you while you’re not there. Let them know that you will be home to give it back soon or that you will be excited to get your item back when you return.

Additionally, introducing a novel toy or activity can serve as a distraction and create a positive association with the babysitter’s presence. Choose something exciting and engaging that the child doesn’t have regular access to, like bubbles or a special puzzle.”

So if you could share your 3 most important takeaways, what would they be?

“I think if i was to summarize, my key tips would be:

  1. To gauge your child’s temperament and your instincts to decide how much notice to give. Start with low-stakes situations to build comfort. Establish comforting rituals with phrases like “Mommy and Daddy will come back” “We are going out, (insert name) will be here to care for you. We can’t wait to hear what you did when we come back!) or “You are safe and loved.” Avoid overcomplicating and maintain consistency.
  2. Show confidence in the sitter and reassure your child that you trust the arrangement you have set up. Stick to the plan, don’t linger, and try to implement the tools consistently for at least two weeks before considering adjustments. 
  3. Finally, Communicate clearly with the Sitter about routines and potential challenges.”
Bambino Sitters

If you’d like to learn more about Ally, her family coaching practice, and get individualized support with a plethora of topics, head to her website ‘Raising with Care‘. Ally provides a safe and non-judgmental space for families to explore their concerns and work towards positive change.

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