How To Deal With Separation Anxiety In Children

by Sumdima Rai
As a three-year-old, I despised weekday mornings. There would be bawling and tempers flaring as I would watch my mom leave for work every day. I hated the thought of letting her go away from my sight. She would even set aside five minutes from her chaotic office morning routine to hug me and cajole me with promises that she would be home soon. After reading about separation anxiety, I realize that parting from me was difficult for my mom too.
 
If you are one of those parents who has to comfort a crying, clinging child as you leave for work or they leave for school, fret not. Separation anxiety is a very common phenomenon and a normal part of your child’s development.

Separation anxiety in children can start when they are six months old and it usually peaks when they’re toddlers. According to Jude Cassidy, PhD, a professor at the University of Maryland College Park, after six months, babies begin to distinguish one person from another and start forming strong emotional attachments to parents or caregivers.
 
But, as parenting.com reports, separation anxiety is often not just a one-time, babyhood phase for many kids. It can resurface in toddler and preschool years. This means that parents need to approach the problem with different solutions for different age groups. Separation anxiety typically stops after the age of six. If it lasts more than that and for an extended period of time, it is advisable to see a doctor.
 
Meanwhile, here are a few tips to help you deal with your child’s anxiety.


Separation Anxiety In Babies

Avoid Sneaking Out & Displaying Negative Emotions
Do you sneak out when your baby is not looking or slowly walk away teary-eyed until your baby is out of sight? You are only fueling your baby’s anxiety by doing this. Don’t appear angry or upset in front of your baby. According to Babycenter, your baby is quite tuned in to how you feel. Give a warm hug and sweet kisses to bid your baby goodbye.

Set Up Childcare With People Your Baby Is Familiar With
Leave your kid in the care of people the kid is already familiar with, like grandparents or uncles and aunts. The baby might protest at first, but is soon likely to adjust. If you have to leave your baby with a caregiver, make sure she gets to know the caregiver first. Babycentrer suggests asking the caregiver to arrive 30 minutes before you depart so that your baby and the caregiver can get some good quality time together before you step out.

Practice At Home
Play a game of peekaboo by hiding and reappearing or let your baby crawl to another room before you go after her. These are healthy ways to practice separation at home. This will make it easier for your baby to cope with your absence and to learn that everything will be okay when you’re gone for some time—and that you will always be back.
 

Separation Anxiety In Toddlers

Develop A Goodbye Ritual
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, developing a goodbye ritual and keeping it short and consistent will help your child overcome her anxiety. For example, how about giving your child two kisses and a high five before leaving? “The ritual creates order around the departure for both the parent and the child and that provides security,” says Sara Abbot, associate director of the Family Resource Counseling Center in Los Angeles. Resist your urge to linger around and reappear after you’ve left, which will give an incentive to your baby to make the separation harder next time.

Assign Small Chores To Your Child
Designating small jobs to your kids, for instance, telling them, “Shut the door for your Mommy,” when you leave for work, might help ease the transition with this little added sense of responsibility.
Also, always remind your child that you will return to her. Anna Zirker, a mother of twins, shares her advice on parenting.com: “When they’d say ‘Mommy, don’t go,’ I’d ask, ‘What does Mommy do when she leaves?’ And they’d say, ‘Mommy comes back.’”


Separation Anxiety In Preschoolers

Devote One-On-One Time
Give your child extra attention and engage with her in activities like letting her help you bake cookies for the family. This will make her feel special. Experts say the additional one-on-one time makes the child feel confident in the parent’s love and feel less threatened.

Do Not Cave In To Demands
A preschooler going through separation anxiety might regress in other ways, like insisting on sleeping with you or asking for her pacifier back. This is also the phase when your kid gets introduced to new stress: the start of schooling, birth of a sibling, and so on. Alex Barzvi, PhD, clinical director of the New York University Child Study Center Institute for Anxiety and Mood Disorders says, “If you give her Binky back, it’s going to be a lot harder to take it away again. Instead of altering the routine, give your child extra hugs and kisses. Plus, by maintaining sameness, you’re sending the message that nothing’s wrong.”
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