It is normal for a young child to feel anxiety when saying goodbye to one or both parents. It is a situation that can be difficult for everyone. This is known as separation anxiety and is a normal part of development. Parents need to know there are coping strategies designed to help diminish the impact of separation anxiety. It is something that usually fades as a child grows older.
Separation anxiety happens because a child feels unsafe for some reason. They may be struggling to deal with changes in their environment as well as surroundings. This could involve a new school, daycare situation and more. When a parent can identify the cause of the separation anxiety, it can be easier to address.
In the early stages of a child’s development, separation anxiety could take the form of clinginess as well as tantrums. These are considered healthy reactions and a normal part of development. Symptoms can begin prior to a child’s first birthday. Separation anxiety symptoms can also occur up to the age of four. The timing and level of intensity can vary from one child to another.
Separation anxiety is something that can impact children differently as they grow and mature.
*Infants. Separation anxiety will occur once a child can comprehend object permanence. This is when infants realize their parents are gone when they have actually left. It could cause them to be unsettled. Some infants display this behavior as early as 4 months and most show symptoms of separation anxiety until 9 months of age.
*Toddlers. It is possible for a child to not show any signs of separation anxiety during infancy, but begin showing symptoms at 15 months of age or a little older. This is a time when they are working on their independence, and it makes them more aware of separations.
*Preschoolers. When a child has reached the age of 3, they will completely comprehend the impact their pleas and anxiety has on their parents. A child at this stage of development can be stressed, but they could also be trying to influence their parent’s behavior.
There are things a parent can do to help their child deal with normal separation anxiety. Separation can be practiced. This could involve leaving a child with a caregiver for short periods of time. As a child gets used to the separation, they will be able to be away from their parents for longer periods of time.
A child’s separation anxiety could be eased when they have the same drop-off ritual take place at the same time every day. Establishing a routine will help a child build trust in their independence as well as their parents returning.
It’s important for parents to realize goodbye rituals are best if they are quick. It is possible to provide a blanket, toys as well as kisses and quickly leave. When a parent stays for an extended period of time, the separation anxiety could also remain longer.
Communicating In Ways Children Understand
When a parent leaves their child, they need to be specific in a way their child understands about when they’ll return. A parent mentioning they’ll be home after nap time or before lunch makes more sense to a child than saying 2:00 pm. Should one parent need to be gone for a few days, they could say they’ll be gone for two sleeps.
A child can become more comfortable and confident with the absence of their parents when the promise of when they’ll return is kept by parents. When parents come earlier or later, a child will notice. Doing this can cause problems and extend separation anxiety.
Persistent Separation Disorders
If a child’s reaction to being separated from their parent’s increases as they get older and causes a problem with school or other activities, it may be a separation anxiety disorder. In extreme cases, this is something that will require working with a trained professional.
Parents dealing with their children’s separation anxiety often survive it with quick transitions, preparation, consistent time and patients. It does cause stress in parents. In time, separation is accepted and a child’s separation anxiety symptoms will stop within a few minutes of leaving or entering a place. Parents need to realize it is a normal part of child development and does not last forever.