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, patience, and coping strategies, it can be relieved—and should fade as your child gets older. 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 anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits.
Easing normal separation anxiety
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.