Children, even within the same family, can have very different responses to being left with a babysitter when their parents go out. Some love it and feel excited at the change in routine, others prefer to stick to what they know best and complain about these annoying departures from the usual proceedings. Both these responses are quite normal and should not deter parents from enjoying nights out either more or less frequently than they want to.
For more anxious children, there are a few things that will help contain their fears about this type of separation and hopefully prevent any more extreme worries from developing. For many parents, these things will be put in place quite naturally, but sometimes if you’re feeling anxious yourself, it can be easy to overlook one or more of these stages:
· Warn them in advance that you will be going out. It is natural for children to show some anxiety when told that their parents are going out, but springing it on them at the last moment will only make matters worse. For most children, particular those under 5, earlier the same day is probably enough. Tell them who will be coming to babysit and ideally make sure they have met the babysitter in advance. If this is not possible (or even if they know the person but they have never babysat for you before) ask the babysitter to come a little early so that you can spend some time all together explaining how things are done and where things are kept. Children often like helping with this part.
· Try to allow time for the babysitter to have some “fun time” with the children before they need to go to sleep, perhaps playing a game, reading extra stories, or even allowing an unusual treat such as a hot-chocolate before bed. In this way, the children will associate the babysitter with extra fun rather than the usual routine but without Mummy or Daddy. Obviously, if your child is a real stickler for routines, encourage your babysitter to stick to the usual order of things.
· If you think your child has a particular concern about something (eg wondering what would happen if they are ill, or needing help with the toilet), make sure these are addressed openly with the babysitter in front of your child.
· Once you are ready to leave (or at bedtime if they are going to sleep before you go out) always say a proper goodbye. As discussed in “The Importance of Endings and Goodbyes” (Blog archive 28/05/12), it is extremely important to be honest with your children that you are going out, even if it causes them some concern at the time. It helps them realise they can trust you to tell them the truth and also gives them a clear and confident message that they will be fine without you while you are out. Explain that you will definitely be back and that if they wake up before you return, the babysitter you have carefully chosen to look after them will still be there. Some parents also like to tell their children that if they really need you, the babysitter would be able to call you.
· In the morning, remind your child that despite their worries, all was well and that you were able to have fun with your friends because you knew they were being safely looked after at home.
If despite these measures your child gets very distressed it can be easy to feel discouraged and perhaps even begin to avoid going out. Practicing small separations is an important step in helping you and your child gain confidence that they can manage without you.
Settling your child