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How to Manage Separation Anxiety in Children

Children sometimes struggle with having to say “goodbye” to mommy and daddy. Between the age of 4 months and 7 months, children typically develop a skill called “object permanence.”  This is when they realize that objects or people exist even if they cannot physically see them. Developing this skill is often followed by them starting to show signs of separation anxiety.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is when a child becomes anxious when their caregiver is not near them. Separation anxiety is developmentally appropriate. While it can happen once babies learn object permanence, it often peaks around the age of 8 to 14 months, and lasts until around 2. Of course, the development of children can vary wildly so children older than 2 can also experience separation anxiety.

What Are Examples of Separation Anxiety? 

If your child does the following, they might be experiencing separation anxiety:

  • Crying or screaming upon separation. – If daycare drop-off leads to big feelings, your child might be feeling anxious about being away from you.
  • Clinging to a parent when it’s time to separate. – This could also happen during daycare drop-off, but the behavior could also present itself on the playground. If your child stays next to you the entire time you are at the playground, they may be worrying about you leaving them.
  • Takes a while for them to feel comfortable away from parents in new environments. – Like clinging to you on the playground, children who are slow to warm up to new environments or new people may be afraid that if they go play, or go socialize, you will leave them.
  • Wakes up a lot during the night. – If your child wakes up throughout the night and climbs in your bed, they may not feel comfortable sleeping away from you.

How to Ease a Child’s Separation Anxiety

  1. Keep calm – Your child can sense your emotions. If you stay calm, it will help them feel like everything is going to be okay.
  2. Make goodbyes quick – It is important to make goodbyes quick and easy. By quickly saying goodbye, you are helping to increase their confidence; if you linger, it might make them feel like you are also experiencing anxiety about the impending separation.
  3. Follow routines – If a child knows what to expect, it fosters a sense of security and safety. In the morning, if you have a goodbye ritual it will help them feel less anxiety when you leave.
  4. Practice socializing – Plan playdates with other children. It will help them adjust to new environments, and people. They will also learn that they can relax and enjoy playing because they’ll learn that you will be back at the end of the playdate.
  5. Acknowledge their feelings – It is important that they understand their feelings are understood. Reassure them that you will return, and everything will be just fine.

You are your child’s entire world, and they want to be around you all the time. Unfortunately, there will inevitably be times when you can’t be with them. They will have to learn how to adapt to new people and new environments, and that can be very scary. Ease their separation anxiety by reassuring them and modeling calmness during tough situations. With enough practice and exposure, they will become more comfortable in their independence.