Separation anxiety is the fear that some children have of being away from their parents or caregivers at any point in time. Children with separation anxiety tend to follow their parents around the house, and have difficulty being left alone to play or to sleep. They most times require that adult to stay with them until they fall asleep and almost always would head straight to their parents’ bedroom whenever they wake up at night.
Just hang in there, this disorder occurs in nearly all toddlers at a particular time during their early years and thankfully isn’t permanent. So, rest assured that pretty soon, your little one will be the first to wave goodbye when you drop him off to play with his friends.
It is also important to note that separation anxiety often returns to “big kids” and even school-age children and adolescents can struggle with separation anxiety, and in some cases can lead to Separation Anxiety Disorder. If your child’s separation anxiety is severe, keeps reoccuring and interferes with your child’s development, consider seeking help.
Why does this happen?
These anxieties are a normal part of development in Children and can start around 6 months till about 3 years.
Children are starting to move around at this age and are becoming aware that they are separate people, which means you could leave them at any time. This anxiety is sort of a survival mechanism for your child. It is unclear though, why some children barely show signs of anxiety at any particular stage or can quickly ease into a new environment without crying or running after their parents or caregivers, and then some will take a long time to make adjustments. Whatever the reason, it is reassuring to know that your kid will outgrow this phase and should be fully out of it by age 3.
How to help your child with separation anxiety
There are a few thigns you can do to help your child if he suffers from separation anxiety.
- When you’re leaving the house. Say goodbye to your child when you leave(Make the goodbye brief, do not drag it). Do not try to sneak out thinking that would help. He might not cry until he realises that you left without notice and would always be on edge around you and not let you out of his sight, thinking you might leave at any time. This can make his anxiety more severe.
- Tell him when you’re leaving and when you’ll be back(he understands more than he can say). Let him know he’s safe with his caregiver and settle him in with an enjoyable activity before you leave. Make this a routine as this would help keep him at ease in future, knowing that you’ll be back to him.
- Keep a relaxed and happy look when you’re leaving even if you share your toddler’s apprehension about being separated. Do not let it show. If you child senses that you’re upset, he might feel the place isn’t safe and also feel upset and get hysterical when you’re about to leave.
- You can keep the situation calm by adopting a silly phrase and get your child In the habit of responding with his own silly phrase. This serves as a form of distraction. You can try leaving a memento(your photograph, scarf, or sweater) for him to remember you by and comfort him while you’re gone. Do not forget to find out from his sitter if the object you dropped helped calm him or aggravated him. If it’s the later, then try giving him his own stuffed animal to hold on to.
- Try encouraging him to separate from you by giving him practice. It’s important to give him positive experiences of separations and reunions. Help him put a name to how he’s feeling. Let him understand that what he’s feeling is real and you understand.
- Get him prepared for your departure. Do not spring up a surprise on him. Make arrangements for him to get acquainted with his sitter. Let him do some activities with both his sitter and you and then try and withdraw and let him get used to his sitter. This helps him get comfortable with the sitter and eases his anxiety. If you’re dropping him off at a daycare or school, inform the schoola bout his separation anxiety, and let them know what you do to help him.
- If you’re having a sitter, you can ask your sitter to take him out for a walk before you leave, but make sure he knows you won’t be around when he gets back.
- Help him learn to cope. Explain to him that you will not be with him at all times but that he’ll always be safe and give him time to adjust. If you’ve tried all you know, it’s sometimes best to just do nothing, say goodbye. Give him a hug and a kiss on the forehead and gently leave where he is. He may still be crying when you leave but will eventually stop. Do not feel guilty about leaving him.