Back to Work After Baby: Coping with Separation Anxiety

Written by: Melissa Kroonenberg, Relationship Therapist

Going back to work can bring about a wide range of emotions for you and your child.  It’s normal and healthy for you and your baby to experience some anxiety in anticipation of, and during, this process.  Separation anxiety in a child can begin anywhere from 8-10 months and usually peaks at around 1 ½-2 years of age.  It typically coincides with the development of “object permanence”, which is when a baby learns that objects and people still exist even when they can’t see them.  Because young children have a limited concept of time, they become anxious when they see that you have gone because they have little understanding of when, or even if, you are coming back.

There are many things that you can do to help your child through separation anxiety:

  1. Leading up to your transition back to work, begin leaving your child with a trusted caregiver for brief periods of time.
  2. Always tell your child when you are leaving and when you will be coming back (even if you feel they are too young to understand you).
  3. Play games like peek-a-boo.
  4. Develop a goodbye ritual and be consistent in using it for every goodbye.
  5. If they will be going to a new caregiver/daycare when you go back to work, try spending some time with your child at the new daycare/caregiver before you have to leave them there.
  6. Go early to daycare so that you can spend some time helping your child acclimate to their surroundings.
  7. Let your child bring objects or things from home that they typically find soothing (e.g., a blanket or favourite toy).
  8. When you are introducing your child to a new caregiver, be sure to show them that you trust them.  Introduce the child to the caregiver and tell them that they are a friend.  Your orientation and energy towards a person can go a long way to help them trust.
  9. Try to keep your emotions light and positive (even if you are not feeling that way on the inside).  Your children will be looking to you for reassurance.  The more calm, confident, and positive you appear, the better it will be for your child.
  10. When you decide to leave, leave.  It may be difficult to keep walking out the door when you hear their protests, but it is better for them when you don’t prolong the process by going back- even if it is to console them.  Most times, the crying and protesting stops before you get out of the driveway.