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You Need to Know These Things About Separation Anxiety

You Need to Know These Things About Separation Anxiety

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.

Key Points

  • Separation anxiety usually starts at around eight to twelve months.
  • Your child should get past their separation anxiety over time. If they do not, seek help from a pediatric psychologist.
  • Some children may develop separation anxiety at an older age. This can be evidence of bullying or abuse at school, so take it seriously.

Everything You Should Know About Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety usually 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 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 whimper to keep your attention.

Tips for Managing Separation Anxiety

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 worsening their anxiety.

Say 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 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.

When to Call a Therapist

Separation anxiety 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. 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.

Extreme separation anxiety is defined as frequent or extreme crying or fussing connected to your departure, a complete inability to sleep or eat when you're away, or any other iteration of extreme distress in your absence. If your child is showing any of these signs, get to a pediatric therapist when you can.

As your child grows, further signs of severe separation anxiety may manifest. An older child may be unable to attend school without crying at the thought of leaving you. It's important that you address this as soon as possible if it occurs; severe separation anxiety can lead to issues in school and bullying from peers.

Remember that sudden separation anxiety at an older age can be indicative of a problem at school, such as bullying or abuse from a teacher. If you suddenly notice separation anxiety in an older child, talk to them about what they might be experiencing. If they won't open up to you, take them to a therapist.

It's normal for older children to feel nervous when first going to school. If this nervousness doesn't go away after a couple of weeks, or if it stops and then comes back, it's important to address it. These incidents could be indicative of a deeper problem.

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