Separation anxiety is a heart-tugging but normal part of young childhood. Babies begin to realize that mom or dad is out there somewhere even though the baby can’t see them. The baby doesn’t like this idea, so they cry when separation begins. So how do you help an emotional parent and an anxious child when they have to part for a short while? This article will reveal the roots of a child’s separation anxiety, your feelings as a parent, and how to keep the tears away.
Separation anxiety begins around a child’s first birthday. They develop object permanence between four and seven months of age. As they grow in their first year, they become torn between independence and their increasing uncertainty about being away from you. At this age, children have no concept of time; they don’t know if you’ll be back in one minute or not at all. If they feel anxious, they’ll do what it takes to keep you from leaving.
Children can have separation anxiety from as early as twelve months of age up to age 2 ½. The duration can vary as well depending on the temperament of the child. If a child is more anxious and cautious, separation anxiety may be triggered at stressful life events throughout childhood. Other children never experience it at all. An older child can typically be distracted from their feelings when separating from a parent. Be aware that sudden separation anxiety in an older child can indicate they are dealing with bullying or some other kind of abuse.
Here is some good news – separation anxiety means your child has developed a strong healthy attachment to you. However, it’s best to help your child manage their emotions and adapt. Your child can also tell how their anxious behaviors affect you. If you immediately run to them when they make the slightest whimper, your child will continue to use the whimpering to keep your attention.
Here are some simple things you can do to make separation anxiety easier for everyone. You may need to try more than one of these ideas to help your child feel more at ease.
Separation anxiety first emerges between eight months and one year of age. If at all possible, avoid changing regular caregivers at this time. Also, try to leave your child after they have filled their tummy and they are rested. This keeps the stresses of hunger and fatigue from increasing their anxiety.
Make affectionate quick good-byes every time. Avoiding your child or sneaking around may actually reinforce your child’s anxiety. They will see good reason to worry about you disappearing from their presence. Instead, reassure them lovingly and don’t linger.
Stay calm, firm, and consistent. Keep in mind that you are modeling security by showing confident loving behaviors. Reassure them you will be back, and make good on any promises you make.
Most of the time, children outgrow this anxiety phase by learning ways to adapt and cope. During the height of separation anxiety (8-12 months), try leaving your baby only with people they are very familiar with. If you do have to leave your baby with someone unfamiliar, give them plenty of time to get used to them. Visit them a few times before the long extended separation.
For older children, give a special “blessing” on one of their favorite comfort items. Tie a special ribbon on it that is just from Mommy, or give your child one of daddy’s ball caps to wear or play with.
If your child’s separation anxiety seems extreme or your remedies don’t help, you may need to see a qualified counselor who specializes in children. However, this problem is usually just a temporary part of childhood. Don’t forget, a young child who doesn’t want to separate from their parent has formed a healthy bond. Make that bond better by helping them to feel secure again.