A child experiencing separation anxiety exhibits extreme distress when one or both parents leave him even if only briefly. This is a normal phase of development and is generally seen around 1 year of age. There are always exceptions – some toddlers never experience separation anxiety while others may develop the symptoms closer to the second birthday rather than the first.
As a rule, this anxiety is likely to be more pronounced in children who
- have only been exposed to their parents
- are experiencing other stress in their lives like a move or a new sibling
- are naturally shy
- temperamentally averse to change
- have recently been left overnight by their parents for the first time.
What to do –
- Take the anxiety seriously, respond with patience and comfort instead of teasing and annoyance.
- Stay calm, firm and sympathetic but stick to your plans.
- Give your child lots of love and attention when you are together especially during periods of intense separation anxiety. Tell him you love him but don’t tell him you miss him so that he feels obliged to miss you back.
- Start with short-term separations.
- Don’t be sneaky. Don’t slip out even when it is really tempting to do so or it will leave your child more guarded and insecure next time you try to leave. Always say goodbye to the child.
- Get rid of the guilt. If you’re leaving him in reliable caring hands there is no need for guilt.
- Check your own anxieties – perhaps he is picking up your worries and fears and thereby enforcing his own fears.
- Don’t let yourself be controlled by crying – your child has to learn that not everything in life can be obtained by crying.
Tips for saying goodbye :
- Get ready in advance, if possible, so as to spend some time with the child before you have to leave. Last minute preparations leave your child feeling neglected initially and abandoned once you’ve left the house. Further your anxiety and impatience if you’re getting late can get transmitted to the child. Try and spend atleast 15 minutes before you leave reading a story or building blocks with your child. Or get ready together.
- Get your toddler busy elsewhere before you leave.
- Leave him with a physical reminder of you, if that helps.
- Keep your exit casual. Tell him briefly that you are going out and will be back soon. Promise a favourite activity when you come back and keep your promise. Find a light or affectionate phrase and use it every time.
- You can tell him when you will be back. Even though he cannot still understand time he will feel more secure and positive.
- Have your toddler wave at you – ask the person looking after her to take her to the window and encourage her to wave. Even if she’s crying wave back smilingly