It’s natural for your young child to feel anxious when you say goodbye. Although it can be difficult, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development. With understanding and these coping strategies, separation anxiety can be relieved—and should fade as your child gets older. However, if anxieties intensify or are persistent enough to get in the way of school or other activities, your child may have separation anxiety disorder. This condition may require professional treatment—but there is also a lot that you as a parent can do to help.
In early childhood, crying, tantrums, or clinginess are healthy reactions to separation. Separation anxiety can begin before a child’s first birthday, and may pop up again or last until a child is four years old, but both the intensity level and timing of separation anxiety vary tremendously from child to child. A little worry over leaving mom or dad is normal, even when your child is older. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits.
Some kids, however, experience separation anxiety that doesn’t go away, even with a parent’s best efforts. If separation anxiety is excessive enough to interfere with normal activities like school and friendships, and lasts for months rather than days, it may be a sign of a larger problem: separation anxiety disorder.
For children with normal separation anxiety, there are steps you can take to make the process of separation anxiety easier.
- Practice separation. Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods and short distances at first.
- Schedule separations after naps or feedings. Babies are more susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re tired or hungry.
- Develop a “goodbye” ritual. Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss.
- Keep familiar surroundings when possible and make new surroundings familiar. When your child is away from home, let him or her take a familiar object with them.
- Have a consistent caregiver. If you hire a caregiver, try to keep him or her on the job.
- Leave without drama. Tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, then go—don’t stall.
- Minimize scary television. Your child is less likely to be fearful if the shows you watch are not frightening.
- Try not to give in. Reassure your child that he or she will be just fine—setting limits will help the adjustment to separation.
These are some of the ways you can help your child cope with these difficulties if not overcome them. Patience and understanding is also required in managing these situations.
Article compiled by:
Head Teacher of Kiota School