More than anything else, your own attitude can help your child to overcome her fear. Your confidence will increase your toddler's confidence. Your cheerfulness will help reduce her tears. Your fearlessness will help her let go of her own fears. Your encouragement will heighten her sense of competence.
Besides projecting an air of confidence, you can take a number of other steps that might be effective in easing your toddler's separation anxiety even before you step out the door:
- Play peek-a-boo or hide and seek often with your toddler. Games of disappearance and reappearance will help strengthen your child's grasp of "object constancy." They provide concrete evidence that you can "go away," but you will always come back.
- Let your toddler know how much you love her and will miss her while you're away. When you return, praise your child's courage. Tell her how proud you are of her, how brave she was, and again how much you love her.
- Acknowledge and, as much as you can, try to ease your toddler's fears and sadness. (Though your child will still be afraid, your efforts may reduce the intensity and duration of her fear.)
- Plan special activities for your babysitter and your toddler and then let your child know how much fun she'll have while you're gone.
- Ask your babysitter to take your child out to your child's favorite park or playground before you leave. It may be easier for your child to leave you than to have you leave her. (Be sure to let your child know that you won't be there when she comes back from the park. This could be an unwelcome surprise.)
- Make good use of the electronic babysitter. Videotape yourself reading one of your toddler's favorite books or singing some favorite songs. Your (human) babysitter can play them while you're away.
- If it's not bedtime—or beyond—when you return, plan a special activity that you will do with your child as soon as you get home. Let your toddler know your plan in advance.
- Make sure that your first few outings apart from your child are short ones (no more than an hour). This will give your toddler a chance to get used to the idea that you can go away and come back relatively quickly. As your toddler gets more used to the idea—if not more comfortable with it—you can gradually increase the time you stay away.