As parents return to work, it is important to prepare children for the transition

As the shelter-in-place lifts, parents are curious how they can prepare for the next few weeks. After spending so much time with both parents, it’s only natural for children, especially younger ones, to develop separation anxiety when their parents return to work.

As the CEO and founder of Inceptive, an online learning platform that offers expert-led, on- demand classes for parents, we have been getting a lot of questions from parents how they can prepare for the next few weeks. To help parents navigate this stressful time, we asked one of our experts, Dr. Noelle Cochran, a clinical psychologist and child development specialist to lay out a roadmap.

Help children process their feelings 

Dr. Cochran advises parents to prepare kids not only for the concrete reality like when their nanny is coming back or when they need to go back to work but also for the emotional reality — what it is going to feel like. Young children need more help processing their feelings. Parents can help them process things using emotional language. For example, “Your nanny was here but then she was gone. And you didn’t get to see her for a long time and you really missed her”.

Some kids, especially kids who are slower to warm, can have a hard time bridging this person who has been an attachment figure, who suddenly disappeared. There can be a lot of push-pull around ‘I’m mad at you’ or ‘I’m so excited to see you’.  Acknowledging these feelings and naming them is the first step in getting children ready. It is also helpful for parents to talk about their own emotions about how they are going to miss them, now they have to go back to the office. 

Give children time to adjust

If the children have been around their parents for the last few months, parents need to give their young kids time to adjust. It is a big shock for kids who haven’t seen somebody else in a while to suddenly spend their time with someone else. It is really important for parents and caretakers to plan for the reconnection.

As things start to move back to normal or when nannies or other caretakers come back, kids are going to have some separation anxiety. As parents bring these caretakers back, they really want to let their children take it at a pace that feels right to their kids and give them a real sense of control. Caretakers also need to give children an invitation to come to them but not be intrusive with kids coming to them. They need to give children time to adjust.‍

Make changes in small increments

Dr. Cochran advises parents to make changes in smaller increments, if possible. For example, having the nanny or other care provider for a small period of time and in the house or nearby. Parents may say something like, “You’re gonna go do bubbles with nanny Sarah and I’ll be done by the time you’re done with bubbles”.

As children get used to separation, parents can gradually leave them for longer periods and travel further. But it is important for parents to return to them at the time they promised and help their child develop the confidence that they can handle separation.

When parents use these strategies to help their child adjust to the new reality, it also helps increase their emotional awareness.

Purva Gujar  is the CEO and Founder of Inceptive, an online learning platform for parents. Prior to founding Inceptive, Purva co-founded a Montessori preschool in San Francisco. She graduated with a Masters degree from MIT, a Masters degree from Auburn University and Bachelors from the University of Pune, India.