Separation Anxiety In Children

It's natural for your young child to feel anxious when you say goodbye. Although it can be difficult, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development. With understanding and these coping strategies, separation anxiety can be relieved—and should fade as your child gets older. However, if anxieties intensify or are persistent enough to get in the way of school or other activities, your child may have separation anxiety disorder. This condition may require professional treatment—but there is also a lot that you as a parent can do to help.

Separation anxiety in children: what’s normal and what’s not

In early childhood, crying, tantrums, or clinginess are healthy reactions to separation. Separation anxiety can begin before a child’s first birthday, and may pop up again or last until a child is four years old, but both the intensity level and timing of separation anxiety vary tremendously from child to child. A little worry over leaving mom or dad is normal, even when your child is older. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits. Some kids, however, experience separation anxiety that doesn’t go away, even with a parent’s best efforts. These children experience a continuation or reoccurrence of intense separation anxiety during their elementary school years or beyond. If separation anxiety is excessive enough to interfere with normal activities like school and friendships, and lasts for months rather than days, it may be a sign of a larger problem: separation anxiety disorder.

Easing normal separation anxiety in children

For children with normal separation anxiety, there are steps you can take to make the process of separation anxiety easier.

Practice separation

Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods and short distances at first.

Schedule separations after naps or feedings Babies are more susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re tired or hungry.

Develop a “goodbye” ritual Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss.

Keep familiar surroundings when possible and make new surroundings familiar. Have the sitter come to your house. When your child is away from home, let him or her bring a familiar object.

Have a consistent primary caregiver.

If you hire a caregiver, try to keep him or her on the job.

Leave without fanfare.

Tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, then go—don’t stall.

Minimize scary television.

Your child is less likely to be fearful if the shows you watch are not frightening.

Try not to give in.

Reassure your child that he or she will be just fine—setting limits will help the adjustment to separation.

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