Separation anxiety is a common and natural part of a child’s development, but it can be challenging for both parents and children to navigate. Whether it’s the first day of preschool, leaving for a playdate, or saying goodbye at daycare, separation can trigger feelings of anxiety and distress.
In this week’s guide, we’ll provide practical advice for parents on how to help their children cope with separation anxiety, understand its underlying causes, and promote a sense of security and independence.
Understanding Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety typically surfaces in infants around 6-8 months and may continue into toddlerhood. It usually peaks at around 18 months but gradually subsides as children grow and become more accustomed to separations.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
- Developmental Milestones
Separation anxiety often coincides with important developmental milestones, such as object permanence. Children begin to understand that when someone leaves, they still exist, but they miss them.
Strong parent-child attachments are healthy, but they can also lead to separation anxiety. Children become distressed when separated from their primary caregivers.
- Fear of the Unknown
Young children thrive on routine and predictability. Anything new or unfamiliar can trigger anxiety, including new people, places, or experiences.
Tips for Parents
1. Gradual Transitions
Ease into separations gradually. Start with short periods of separation and gradually increase the time. This helps children become accustomed to the idea.
2. Consistency and Routine
Maintain a consistent routine as much as possible. Predictability provides a sense of security. Make drop-offs and pick-ups consistent and reassuring.
3. Positive Goodbyes
When saying goodbye, keep it short, sweet, and positive. Reassure your child that you’ll return and stick to your promise.
4. Comfort Items
Allow your child to bring a comfort item, like a stuffed toy or blanket, to provide familiarity and comfort during separations.
5. Stay Calm
Children can pick up on their parents’ emotions. Stay calm and composed during separations to convey a sense of confidence and security.
6. Goodbye Rituals
Create a special goodbye ritual or routine. It could be a secret handshake, a special phrase, or a kiss on a specific spot.
7. Acknowledge Feelings
It’s essential to validate your child’s feelings of anxiety. Let them know it’s okay to feel this way and that you understand.
8. Stay Informed
Stay informed about your child’s activities and experiences while separated. Knowing what they do can help alleviate your concerns.
9. Build Independence
Encourage independence by letting your child make choices within safe limits. This can boost their confidence.
10. Seek Professional Help
If separation anxiety persists or intensifies and disrupts daily life, consider consulting a pediatrician or child psychologist for guidance and support.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s development, but with patience, understanding, and supportive parenting, most children eventually outgrow it. Remember that every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. By providing a safe and loving environment, you can help your child navigate separation anxiety and build a foundation of security and independence for their future.
Join the weekly Thursday RYTC workshops for parents/guardians and children with separation anxiety in the Sydni Centre, Cottage Square Sydenham, Leamington Spa at 3:30 PM. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place for you and your child.