Have you ever been worried that your child seems overly clingy, afraid or nervous when away from you or home? That may actually be normal for your child if they are between 8 months to two-years-old. For children six-years-old or older, that nervousness may signal serious separation anxiety if it lasts longer than a month.
Separation anxiety for children happens when they repeatedly find it difficult to be away from their parents, guardians or home. According to the article, Separation Anxiety in Children on WebMD, some children develop and portray physical signs of anxiety when with unfamiliar people or in unfamiliar places, such as headaches or stomachaches and resistance to going to school or playing with other children.
“Separation anxiety often develops after a significant stressful or traumatic event in the child’s life, such as a stay in the hospital, the death of a loved one or pet, or a change in environment. Children whose parents are over-protective may be more prone to separation anxiety. In fact, it may not necessarily be a disease of the child but a manifestation of parental separation anxiety as well – parent and child can feed the other’s anxiety” (Separation Anxiety in Children, WebMD)
Dealing with and reducing separation anxiety in children is a process that needs to be implemented gradually and carefully. As parents, we must be empathetic with our children and understand the basis of their fear or discomfort. If you think your child is suffering from separation anxiety, these six tips should help you to better manage separation anxiety for toddlers and to become a pro in calming kids:
Realize that separation anxiety is normal
All children experience some form of separation anxiety. Try to not get upset or annoyed with yourself or your children, they’re not being as unreasonable as you think.
Keep your voice, body and energy relaxed. It’s very important to not allow your child’s anxiety to agitate you.
Try not to dismiss your child’s emotions but instead acknowledge and accept them and try to build a relationship of trust between them and their interim caretaker or babysitter.
Be patient with your child’s familiarization with new people and places
Children often take a longer time to adjust to change so their introduction to new things has to be gradual, like with food. If you’re enrolling your child in a new daycare, try visiting the daycare with them consecutively for a few days before the first day. Another example is inviting the babysitter to arrive at your home an hour earlier to give your child time to get to know them while you’re there. Your interaction with the babysitter will signal trust between the babysitter and yourself and reduce your child’s anxiety and reluctance.
Always say goodbye to your child before you leave
Trying to leave without your child noticing can prove to be disadvantageous and make their anxiety worse. It may give your child the idea that at any moment, they won’t be able to find or reach you. A quick kiss or hug goodbye works.
Create a separation routine
Try to gradually enable your child to get used to not being around you all the time. You can schedule a date night once a week or ask your parents to babysit on the weekend. This is super important for new parents who are about to go back to work or who just need some alone time. It’s better to ease your child into being away from you rather than to suddenly begin disappearing daily for a full eight hours. Your children may still be upset when you leave but, over time, the anxiety will decrease as their separation from you becomes more familiar.
Podcast Ep. 122 Separation Anxiety
If your child is six-years-old or older and still suffers from constant separation anxiety, their fearful and nervous behavior may be classified as separation anxiety disorder. This doesn’t apply in random or one-off cases of resistance or reluctance to go somewhere or be around certain people. Sometimes, your child’s anxiety has a good reason that can be determined by discussing it with them to understand why they are afraid. If you’re worried that your child aged six-years or older still exhibits separation anxiety, you can alleviate children anxiety by offering your child positive reinforcement. Praise their accomplishments and show them why they should be proud of what they have achieved. This can be something as simple as getting a good grade on a test or successfully preparing a light snack.
Giving your children the freedom to be more independent can also help with calming kids. Let them do things on their own and be themselves rather than try to control and take over their activities and actions. As a parent, you should also try being more empathetic with your children and confident in them. We’re not telling you to coddle them but instead understand their point-of-view and express to them that you trust their discretion and capabilities.
Remember, separation anxiety in children ages two years and younger, and occasional anxiety in children ages six years and older, is normal and reversible with time and patience. If you suspect your child has separation anxiety disorder, please visit a mental health care professional right away to properly diagnose, understand and treat your child’s condition. WebMD states that 4-5% of children ages 7-11 years in the United States suffer from separation anxiety, but it only affects 1.3% of teens. Separation anxiety can be treated with psychotherapy or antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.