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Separation and Child Anxiety: All You Need is Love

Published May 19, 2020

Separation anxiety varies WIDELY between children. Some babies become hysterical when mom is out of sight for a very short time, while other children seem to demonstrate ongoing anxiety at separations during infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool. We came up with the best tips to try and reduce you and your child's anxiety around separating each other.

Separation anxiety is normal for both the child and the parent, and a beautiful sign of a meaningful attachment. The key to surviving separation anxiety revolves around preparation, brisk transitions, and the evolution of time. Honestly, parents suffer just as much as children when they do leave. Even if they are reminded that their children stop crying within minutes of our leaving, many feel like they're "doing it all wrong". 

Facts about Separation Anxiety

Infants: Some babies display separation anxiety as early as 4 to 5 months of age, most develop more robust anxiety around 9 months. The leave can be much worse if your infant is hungry, tired, or not feeling well. Keeping transitions short and routine if its a tough day. 

Toddlers: Some toddlers skip separation anxiety in infancy and start demonstrating it at 15 or 18 months of age. Again, separations are more difficult when children are hungry, tired, or sick - which can feel like most of toddlerhood. Becoming more independent during toddlerhood, can make them more aware of separations. Their feelings will be portrayed through loud, tearful, and difficult to stop behaviours. 

Preschoolers: By the time children are 3, they understand the effect their anxiety has on us. That doesn't mean they aren't stressed, but they are vying for a change. Be consistent; don't return to a room based on a child's plea, and don't cancel plans based on separation anxiety. Ongoing consistency, explanations, and diligence to return when you say you will are important for growth.

How to Survive Separation Anxiety

Slow down. Unless it is an emergency, you have time to breathe and calmly talk to your child about what they are experiencing. I notice that the more emotional and frustrated I feel, the more agitated my son becomes, so breathing become key. Slowly talking and gentle movements help to diffuse the situation.

Talk it through. I lower my tone and try to calmly address the specific situation. For example, sometimes children who are feeling lonely or needy for extra attention will throw toys. While they need to learn to vocally express themselves while not throwing his toys, asking questions can help do this. Ask why they are frustrated and why they have thrown his toys. Follow this question with more questions — how are you feeling? Are you feeling lonely? Why are you feeling lonely? Would you like time to play with mama? They usually respond and you can figure out how to fix the situation, or at least divert from it. 

Be consistent. Consistency can be difficult. Maybe you’re feeling tired, frustrated, or sad yourself, or maybe you’re just in a hurry. Try to do the same drop-off with the same ritual at the same time each day you separate to avoid unexpected factors. A routine can diminish anxiety-filled behaviour and will allow your child to simultaneously build trust in their independence and in you. 

Create quick good-bye rituals. Come up with your own little good-bye rituals, whether it be a hand shake, 3 kisses, or a special toy to leave them with - keep the good-bye short and sweet. If you linger, the transition time does too, and so will the anxiety.

Keep your promise and be specific. You will build trust and independence as your child becomes confident in their ability to be without you when you stick to your promise of return. When you discuss your return, be specific in a way your child will understand. For example, say, "I'll be back after nap time and before afternoon snack". 

Practice being apart. When you two feel ready to start separating, try shipping the children off to grandma's, scheduling playdates, and friends and family to provide child care for you (even for an hour). Before starting child care or preschool, practice going to school and what your good-bye ritual may look like, before you even have to part ways. Give your child a chance to prepare, experience, and thrive in your absence. 

Show love. That’s it: show love. These two words help curb any child-parent separation anxiety my son is experiencing. A hand on their back or shoulder, a kiss on their head, eye contact — these are all things that demonstrate love and care for what they are experiencing. They will help to both connect and discuss the situation calmly. Stopping, picking them up for another hug, validating their feelings and assuring them that things will be okay and they will feel better. It’s what we all need, isn’t it?

Remember separation anxiety is normal behaviour and will be different for every child and parent. Follow these tips and remember to show love to yourself and your little one, and everything should go a little smoother. 

For More Related Blogs, Check Out:

Preschool Parenting Tips to Help your Younger Kids Adjust

5 Great Tips for Parenting 2 Year Olds

5 Things Parents and Kids can do Together Every Week to Bond

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