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Babysitter and child with separation anxiety

Babysitter Separation Anxiety

(9 Tips to Prepare Your Child)

Getting a new babysitter can be a stressful time for everyone involved—but it can also be a great thing when it works out.

You're probably worried about trusting your baby in the care of someone else. Your new babysitter has to get to know your child, learn how your family operates, and adapt their strategies to suit your needs. And worst of all, your child may get stressed out when left alone with someone brand new. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help your child get to know a new sitter.

How do I help my child get used to a babysitter? Start by having your child meet the babysitter, then leave them together for a bit while you’re home, and finally leave the house for progressively longer periods. Stay positive and explain to your child what’s happening and when. Always say goodbye, and never look back when you’re leaving.

In this article, you'll learn some ways to help your child get used to a new babysitter. Not all of these suggestions will work for all kids. It's more just to give you a feel for the possible ways to handle this transitional time. And you'll need to decide which one best suits your needs. But trying anything to get your child used to a babysitter before leaving them alone is better than trying nothing at all.

Why Do I Need To Get My Child Used To A New Babysitter?

At a certain age, it's not all that uncommon for kids to scream for their parents as they're being left alone with the babysitter. This is a natural part of child development called separation anxiety (source). Some kids will adapt better over time than others, and some may not have any problems at all. But for many young children, being left with a brand new babysitter without warning can make them feel like they're being abandoned, and potentially affect the trust between you and your child.

Start Getting to Know Them Early

A great way to get your child comfortable with their new babysitter is to start having them spend time together as early as possible.

This is easiest if the babysitter is a friend or family member. In that case, you can just have them over to your home to visit in advance.

If you don't have any previous relationship with the babysitter, you might pay them to do a couple of babysitting shifts while you're still at home. Or you may even want to offer to pay for their dinner and take them out to a restaurant with you and your child.

Any shared exposure where the sitter is present while you're still with your child will help everyone get to know each other. That way, your child will start to understand that the sitter is now a part of their life and that you approve of them.

For babies, it's especially helpful to have a new babysitter help with feedings and get them changing diapers while you're still present.

Make sure your child is safe by running background checks on your babysitter—before you hire them. Read our complete guide: How to Run a Background Check on a Babysitter.

Just Go To Another Room At First

Once you've got your child comfortable being around your babysitter when you are there, you can start to try and leave them together for longer periods of time.

At first, you might want to stay in the house. Simply go to another room and leave your child with the babysitter, but remain within a range that you'll be able to hear them if they start to cry for you. Let your child know that you just need to go into the other room for a minute, and you'll be right back.

Start by leaving for a short period of time, like five minutes, or even less at first if needed—and you can peek in a time or two. You want to slowly build up the time your child is comfortable being with the babysitter without you around.

If your child gets upset at your absence, you can return and reassure them, and then wait for at least 30 minutes before you try to leave them with the sitter again.

In addition to increasing the amount of time you leave the room, you also want to increase the time you wait to return if your child starts crying. The first time or two, you can come back right away until your child learns that you will return. But after that, if they cry, it’s a good idea to wait about 5 minutes before returning to give the babysitter a chance to try and soothe or distract them first. If they stop crying, don’t go back in. Just let them hang out together.

Understand that there might not be a linear progression for how long your child can go before they start crying. Expect some ups and downs during this process. For example, one day, your child may go 15 minutes without getting upset that you've left. Then the next day, it might be only 5 minutes. This doesn't necessarily mean they aren't making progress.

Some parents may not want to pay a sitter multiple times to do this exercise. I'd recommend doing it at least once, and if your child is fine being alone with the sitter without making a fuss, then you can move on to the next step.

Leave The House

Once your child seems comfortable being alone with your new babysitter for at least a half-hour, you can start leaving the house. This is a big step since it means you won’t be comforting your child right away if they get upset.

You might take the opportunity to go to the grocery store and get a quick shop in or do an errand nearby. But you’ll want to have your phone on you so the babysitter can reach you if your child becomes inconsolable.

The first few times you leave your child alone with the babysitter for an extended time, you'll want to avoid things like going to a movie theatre or for a massage where you won't be reachable if something happens.

Isn't This A Bit Excessive?

As I mentioned briefly earlier, going through this extended process to help your child get used to their new babysitter isn't going to be practical or possible for everyone. You simply might not have the time or money to devote to it. But if you are able to do this, and you really want to build a sense of security and trust between your child and the babysitter, it's best to make the transition as gradual and smooth as possible.

It might feel a bit silly to spend multiple days helping your child get accustomed to the babysitter. But most caregivers will totally understand and do whatever they can to help both you and the baby to become comfortable with being apart. Taking a bit of extra time to get your child feeling secure and confident with their new caregiver is worth it.

While it is important to move the process along, you want to avoid taking your child too far out of their comfort zone or creating a traumatic experience if at all possible.

Some kids will adapt to being left with a babysitter right away, and you might find you're even able to skip most of these steps! But always let your child's comfort level dictate what your next step should be.

Tips For Easing Your Child's Separation Anxiety

Even if you've practiced leaving your child with the sitter, they might still become upset whenever you try to leave. Here are nine tips to try and remove as much stress and anxiety from being separated as possible.

1. Stay Positive

Your child can read your emotions better than you think! If you show signs of being stressed or upset about leaving them alone with the babysitter, they'll pick up on it, and it can affect their mood as well.

So even if you are feeling some hesitation about leaving, try your best not to let it show. Put on a calm, positive, and happy face for them, at least until you get out the door.

2. Ask Your Babysitter to Come Early

If it's possible, get your babysitter to show up 30 minutes before you need to leave. Of course, you'll be paying them for this extra time. But it will give them plenty of opportunities to settle in with your child before you have to go, rather than you leaving within a few minutes of their arrival.

3. Explain Where You are Going

Even if your child is too young to understand, it's still good to explain where you're going and when you'll return home. You never know what parts they might pick up and understand, and it's better than not telling them. Plus, it will set up the habit of communicating with them for the future when they do start to understand what you're saying.

4. Distract Them

You can help soothe your child a bit by engaging them with an activity or toy before you leave. You can try their favorite pacifier or blanket, but be aware as some kids may develop a dependence on objects to calm them when you leave.

Your child might still cry when you go, but having their favorite toy will likely distract them again shortly afterward and lessen the impact.

5. Always Say Goodbye

Some parents might try to sneak out of the house to make the handoff to the babysitter more seamless. While quietly leaving out the back door might cause less immediate stress for your child, it can actually cause more anxiety once they inevitably realize that you're gone.

You don't want to set your baby up, thinking that you can simply disappear at any time without warning. So make sure to always properly say goodbye, wave to them, or give them a kiss when you're leaving. Don’t prolong the process, but reassure them that you'll be back soon.

6. Don't Look Back

During the initial transition period discussed above, you want to be receptive to your child's needs and quickly return if they show signs of distress that don’t seem to improve given a little time.

But once you've gradually worked with the babysitter and know your child is comfortable being left alone for longer periods of time, don't be dismayed by setbacks or intermittent anxiety when you go to leave.

Resist the urge to go back to your child to give them one more hug or kiss if they start crying. You definitely don't want to teach them that crying will get you to come back or stay longer, as it will become a very hard habit to break (source).

Also, it’s difficult for the babysitter to have the parent coming and going several times, with the child getting more and more upset and working themselves into a frenzy.

When children get more used to a babysitter, it can work well to have them sit in the window together and wave goodbye, “see you after a while, crocodile!” You can even make it into a little ritual, where the child knows the same thing will happen every time you leave the house, and they’ll get used to it.

7. Involve Your Kid in the Babysitter Selection Process

Obviously, this isn't really an option with a newborn or toddler. But if your child is a bit older, you can make a point to include them during the interview process and ask them for their opinion on each potential babysitter as well. Kids actually have great intuition and are pretty good at judging an adult’s character (source). So if there's a babysitter that they really don't think they'd get along with, it's better to find someone they like better.

For more detail on how to conduct a babysitter interview, see my article - How To Interview A Babysitter (Essential Tips & Trusted Techniques).

8. Talk To Your Babysitter

Open communication with your sitter is super important, but especially at the beginning of the relationship when you're still working to set expectations from both sides.

Let your babysitter know that it's okay if your child is a bit fussy, and tell them an amount of time that you're comfortable with letting them cry it out before they should contact you for help.

It's also crucial to let your babysitter know that you're on their side, and it's okay if they're feeling overwhelmed. Tell them to feel free to give you a call because you’d much rather hear from them about it so you can help.

Discuss a detailed plan with your sitter, including any toys or transition objects you'll use, whether they should be holding your child when you leave or not, how you'll leave the house, things they can do to distract your child, and other points that might be helpful.

There may be specific things that could trigger your baby's anxiety that you might want to let them know about. For example, they might want to avoid talking about mommy or daddy while you're gone.

9. Watch For Separation Anxiety Disorder

Some separation anxiety when you leave your child is normal. It's not just people! Children of most mammals need to have a bond with their parents as a survival mechanism in nature (source), and that instinct can be hard to overcome!

However, there is a condition known as separation anxiety disorder that is much more severe than regular separation anxiety. If you leave your child with the babysitter and they can’t seem to calm or be distracted with play, and their anxiety only seems to be getting worse, you should speak with your family doctor right away (source).

Watch for the signs of a panic attack such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting (source), and signs of anxiety, like extreme fear of sleeping or worry about getting kidnapped or lost.

Conclusion

No matter how much preparation you do to get your child (and yourself!) prepared for leaving them with a babysitter, it's never easy the first time. But it certainly is better than doing no prep work at all and simply leaving your child alone with a new babysitter without any warning.

Using the tips above, you can help your child get used to their babysitter and create a smoother transition. Most importantly, try to set up a day or two where the babysitter can come in while you're still home and get to know the baby. Any bit of a bond that you can help create between your child and the babysitter will really make the whole process much more manageable.

Your babysitter is a valuable resource and can do things to help you and your child overcome some of the separation anxiety that’s natural in the beginning. So it's a good idea to have a chat with them before they start babysitting to ensure that everyone is feeling comfortable and has the same expectations for how things should go.

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