While separation can be difficult for both parents and children, it is a common occurrence in child development. Separation anxiety is the anxiety or distress children feel when they are separated from their primary caregivers. Separation anxiety often becomes evident at about six months, but can be experienced in different forms throughout childhood and even adolescence.
It can look different in each child and at every stage of development. Symptoms can include everything from crying to screaming to school refusal to sleeping problems, vomiting and more. While it’s natural for children to experience separation anxiety, it’s important for parents to take the steps necessary to help their child manage their emotions to support age-appropriate development.
How to make separation anxiety easier for your child:
Validate your child – Validation is key when it comes to all emotional states including anxiety. The feelings your child experiences when separating are real, and should not be shrugged off or ignored. Ignoring or denying your child’s anxiety can make symptoms worse and lead to feelings of isolation of loneliness. Genuinely showing your child that you understand his or her emotional state will help them to feel less alone and understood.
Get to know caretakers – Gradually introduce your child to their babysitter, teacher or caretaker. Being left alone with a stranger is understandably scary so be sure to be extra sensitive. If you plan to leave your child with a new caretaker or family member, set a playdate beforehand to observe the chemistry and help your child to warm up. Tapping into your own childhood memories of being left with caretakers is always a good way to connect with the anxiety or discomfort your child may be feeling.
Use transitional objects (they’re magic) – Transitional objects are physical objects that comfort your child when transitioning to a new setting or environment. The objects are intended to take the place of the mother-child or father-child bond. Giving your child a small object such as a stuffed animal, sticker to wear or picture of you, may help to ease the transition.
Encourage independence – It’s never too early to start teaching your child responsibility and to encourage them to feel independent. When children do things by themselves, they feel a great sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency. As a result, a child is less likely to be needy or clingy when parents want or need to separate. Teaching your child responsibility is a sure way to counter separation anxiety.
Take the time to share your plan – Make sure to tell your child when you will return. If your child is young and can’t tell time, map out when you will be back using time frames they will understand. For example, “Mommy will be back after you finish watching Dora” or “Daddy will be home after your nap.” Do your best to stick to the time frames you’ve set, so that your child feels they can trust you over time.
Having trouble managing your child’s separation anxiety? Talk to a ParentGood expert for practical solutions that work. Our experts specialize in separation anxiety and have all the tips you need to help your child overcome this overwhelming stage.