8 Smart Tips for How to Ease Your Child’s Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a normal part of a child's development. It's a natural reaction to separation from the primary caregiver, usually a parent. This can occur when a child is dropped off at daycare or school or when the caregiver leaves the home. It's understandable that a child might feel scared or anxious when separated from the person they rely on for comfort, protection, and security. However, separation anxiety can be challenging for parents to deal with, especially if it's a recurring issue. Here’s a look at what you can expect and a few strategies that can help ease your child's separation anxiety.
How Separation Anxiety Looks at Different Ages
Child separation anxiety manifests itself a bit differently depending on the age and developmental stage.
Once an infant begins to understand object permanence (the ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard), they start to realize that you’re actually gone at times. For many babies, this realization kicks in around 4 to 5 months of age. By 9 months, the separation anxiety can be a little stronger. Keep goodbyes short and sweet at this age and make sure your infant is fed, well-rested, and feeling well before taking leave.
For many kids, separation anxiety doesn’t really start until they reach toddlerhood. Between the ages of 15 to 18 months, children may panic, cry, and become quite emotional about any separation. Leaving when they are sick, hungry, or tired can make the separation process worse.
By preschool, kids have become pretty savvy about what their broken hearts can do to a parent. That’s not to say they don’t still feel anxiety about being away from you – they will. But at this point, they know you’ll come back – they just don’t want you to leave. Be sure to communicate clearly with children this age. Explain how long you’ll be away from them, when you’ll return, and that they will, in fact, see you again. The more consistent you are with what you tell them and with doing what you say, the more they will trust you to come back and the better they can relax when you’re not around.
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How to Help a Child with Separation Anxiety
Even though it is completely normal behavior and a wonderful sign of a significant bond between you and your child, separation anxiety can be extremely unnerving for everyone involved. Here are a few tips on how to help a child with separation anxiety at school, daycare, or other places.
1. Prepare your child ahead of time.
One of the best ways to ease separation anxiety is by preparing your child ahead of time. Talk to your child about what will happen, where they will go, and who will take care of them. Give them a sense of what to expect, so they're not surprised or caught off guard. You can use books, movies, and TV shows to help your child understand that separation is a natural part of life. Encourage your child to express their feelings about separation and provide reassurance that they will be safe and cared for.
2. Create a goodbye ritual.
Creating a goodbye ritual can help your child feel more secure and ease their anxiety. A goodbye ritual can be as simple as a special hug or kiss, a wave goodbye, or a special phrase that you say every time you leave. The ritual provides a sense of comfort and routine that your child can rely on when you're not around. Be consistent with your goodbye ritual and make sure your child knows what to expect.
3. Stay positive and confident.
Children are very perceptive and can pick up on your emotions. If you're anxious or upset about leaving your child, they'll sense it and feel more anxious themselves. Stay positive and confident when you're saying goodbye to your child. Smile, use a calm and reassuring tone of voice, and let them know that you'll be back soon. If your child sees that you're calm and confident, they'll feel more secure and relaxed.
4. Provide comfort objects.
A comfort object can be anything that provides your child with comfort and security when you're not around. It could be a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or toy. A comfort object can help your child feel more secure and ease their anxiety. Encourage your child to bring their comfort object with them when they go to daycare or school. Knowing that they have something familiar and comforting with them can make a big difference in how they feel.
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5. Establish a consistent routine.
Children thrive on routine and structure. Establishing a consistent routine can help your child feel more secure and reduce their anxiety. Make sure your child has a consistent sleep schedule, mealtime routine, and daily routine. If your child knows what to expect, they'll feel more in control and less anxious about being separated from you.
6. Start with short separations.
If your child is experiencing separation anxiety, it's best to start with short separations and gradually increase the amount of time you're apart. This will help your child build up their confidence and feel more comfortable with separation. For example, you could start by leaving your child with a caregiver for 15 minutes and gradually increase the time until they're comfortable being away from you for longer periods.
7. Practice separation.
Practicing separation can help your child feel more comfortable with being away from you. You can practice separation by leaving your child with a trusted caregiver for short periods, such as going for a walk or running errands. This will help your child get used to being away from you and develop confidence in their ability to handle the separation.
8. Don't sneak away.
It might be tempting to sneak away when your child is distracted or not looking, but it's not a good strategy for easing separation anxiety. Sneaking away can break your child's trust and make them feel even more anxious and insecure. Instead, say a proper goodbye and let your child know that you'll be back soon. This will help your child feel more secure and trust that you'll always return.
With these strategies, you can help ease your child's separation anxiety and make the separation process smoother for both you and your child. Remember to be patient and consistent, and soon your child will feel more confident and secure when separated from you.
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