Overcoming a Child’s Fear of Loneliness: Tips for Parents
Young parents often worry about certain behaviors in their child that they personally find confusing. For example, when a little one absolutely refuses to let mom out of their sight, even for a minute, or throws a fit when someone other than their parents tries to touch them. These actions are mostly caused by fear – fear of separation from loved ones, and there’s nothing unusual about it.
Table of Contents
Fear is a natural response to the potential danger coming from outside. People tend to be afraid of things that might harm them such as the unknown, heights, darkness, and even loneliness. These fears act as a kind of buffer, protecting people from impulsive actions that could seriously harm their health and well-being.
Fear of loneliness
So, what is the fear of loneliness in babies all about? It is one of the first fears that humans experience and it starts to manifest in a child as early as the first year of life. It’s just how nature made us social creatures, and communicating with similar beings is vital for a child’s well-being. As studies show, babies under one-year-old who lack parental attention (such as those kept in daycare centers) significantly lag behind in their development. This developmental delay is seen both physically and emotionally. Meanwhile, children of this age who live in families try their best to stay as close as possible to their parents and sometimes experience separation from them as extremely painful. Generally, the fear of loneliness first manifests itself at 6 or 7 months and reaches its peak at 10 to 18 months, gradually subsiding by the age of two. At this age, the little one may be emotionally ready for temporary separation from their mother, although it is not easy for everyone.
But what should mothers of babies who don’t want to let go of their mom for even a second do? Are they doomed to be by their little one’s side day and night, never daring to leave their sight? Of course not. The right behavior and patience of adults will make the separation process easier and solve the problem of a child’s fear of loneliness at any age.
“Children who experience loneliness and isolation are at risk of developing psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.” – Dr. John Bowlby
Let’s Fight Fear Together
Sooner or later, every mom needs to leave her child under the care of other people for some time. It could be going to work, attending courses or sections, or simply wanting to spend time with friends, which, mind you, every mom has the right to do. The first visit of the baby to the daycare is not far off – an event that requires careful preparation.
It will take some time to turn the separation into a familiar procedure. Don’t worry if everything doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like the first time. Following a few simple rules can help speed up the process.
“A child’s sense of security and self-worth is strongly influenced by the love and attention of his or her parents. Without these, the child may develop a fear of loneliness that can last well into adulthood.” – Dr. William Sears
Rule One: Prepare the Sled in Summer
Knowing about the upcoming separation from your beloved baby gives a mom an excellent opportunity to prepare him or her in advance. A great exercise is for the mom to leave the room from time to time, leaving the baby alone with toys and other adults. Soon she returns, letting the child know that nothing bad happened. For the first attempts, it’s enough to leave for a few seconds, and then gradually increase the time of absence. The baby will quickly stop being nervous, knowing that mom will be back soon.
Rule Two: “You and I are One Company…”
The child must be familiar with the person who will temporarily replace the mom and fully trust him or her. Before leaving the baby with a grandmother, friend, or nanny, spend a couple of evenings together so that both sides get used to each other and achieve maximum mutual understanding.
When the first stage of acquaintance is over, you can try leaving the baby and the person playing the role of a nanny alone for a couple of hours. If the attempt is successful, everything is going well. In this case, the mom can confidently leave the baby longer. If the baby struggles with the separation – he or she is not yet ready for it, give the baby a little more time.
Rule Three: Don’t Get Weepy
It’s easy for a mom to get down in the dumps when her little tyke is feeling blue. Seeing her crying baby tugs at her heartstrings, filling her with compassion and sympathy, which can make her even more upset. But this only causes the child to panic more, creating a vicious circle that could turn a short farewell into a family-wide meltdown.
Remember, you are a role model for your child. The best approach is to give your little one a big hug, tell them you love them, say you’ll be back soon, and then quickly leave without dragging out the goodbye or prolonging your child’s anxiety.
Keep in mind that your child will gradually become more willing to let you go each day, as they become accustomed to your absence. Moreover, the situation is usually not as dire as it seems: most children calm down the moment their mom steps out of sight.
Rule Four: Home Sweet Home
A child will feel much calmer and more confident when left alone in the safety of their own home, surrounded by familiar items and beloved toys. If hiring a babysitter at home is not an option, refer back to Rule Two: introduce your little one not only to the caregiver but also to the area where they’ll be spending their time together.
If you’re leaving your child in someone else’s, albeit familiar, home, don’t rush to leave right away. Give them at least 15 or 20 minutes to settle in while you’re still there.
“When a child is afraid of being alone, it’s important to remind them that they’re never truly alone. They always have a guardian angel watching over them.”
Common Mistakes Moms Make When Separating from Their Child
Often, parents become flustered at the moment of separating from their child and make many regrettable mistakes. Without realizing it, they worsen the situation with their behavior. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common foolish mistakes that parents make when saying goodbye to their little ones.
Being Strict with the Child
Undoubtedly, in certain cases, strictness yields results in a child’s upbringing. And it’s especially useful when appropriate. When saying goodbye to their mother, the child is under stress, and a stern reprimand for “wrong” (read: inconvenient) behavior is the last thing that can improve the situation. It is absolutely unacceptable to:
- reprimand them for being weak, cowardly, lacking courage, etc;
- threaten not to come back at all if the child doesn’t calm down right away;
- punish them verbally or physically.
It is precisely at this moment that the child needs parental support more than ever, and their trust in the future depends largely on how the adults behave now. Therefore, hide your irritation in the deepest corner of your heart, and don’t forget to remind yourself that the child’s reaction to separation is a normal manifestation of their attachment.
Returning to Comfort
It often happens that a mother, worried about her child, can’t bring herself to leave. She hugs and persuades the child for a long time, gives the nanny final instructions, and promises the little one the moon. Finally, deciding to leave the house, she immediately returns upon hearing loud crying behind her.
By doing so, you make at least two colossal mistakes:
a) prolonging your little one’s suffering, who, most likely, will stop noticing your absence after 10 minutes, being engrossed in playing with toys;
b) giving your child false hope that mommy won’t actually leave.
Goodbyes should be optimistic and short, without excessive displays of emotion – only then can you convey your calmness and positive attitude to your child.
Some parents believe that sneaking away from a child is a way to spare them the pain of separation. This is a deeply mistaken belief. Never leave a little one without warning them. Such experiments can cause tremendous stress for the child, who may think their parents have abandoned them. In any case, this kind of behavior will not benefit your relationship with your son or daughter.
Nighttime Separation: How to Make the Night Peaceful?
To calm your child’s worries before bedtime, the best thing to do is to behave calmly and kindly as always. Reading familiar fairy tales while lying in bed, quietly singing (preferably lullabies), and gently stroking the child’s back are excellent ways to spend time before sleep.
If the child is afraid to part with you before bedtime, it may be necessary to accommodate their fears and stay with them until they fall asleep.
Insurmountable Difficulties and How to Overcome Them
In parenting, there are cases when even the most tried and tested methods do not bring results: the child cries bitterly day after day, refusing to stay with the nanny, or sobbing when they see the gates of the daycare from afar.
It is worth noting that, in normal circumstances, such behavior can last for more than a week and is not a cause for concern since the adaptation period often drags on. However, if there is no progress after several weeks, it is a serious reason to consider changing the nanny or the daycare group.
To make the right decision, listen to what your loving parent’s heart tells you. It often gives excellent advice.