When separated from the person with whom they are attached, it is common for infants and toddlers to display cautious or panicky reactions. This is known as separation anxiety. Separation anxiety begins to appear around 6-8 months of age, while peaking between 14 and 18 months. Throughout infancy and the preschool period, separation anxiety will gradually become less frequent and less intense. Although each individual child differs considerably in their response to separations, there are a few ways to help put them at ease.
Easing Separation Anxiety in Toddlers and Infants
Communication is always essential. Tell your child that you are leaving and when you are expected to return. Let them know it will be okay. Maybe go over what they will be doing while you are gone, such as going for a walk or playing at the park. Even if you think your child cannot understand you, the manner and tone of your voice can send them the message. Never leave without saying good-bye as this can most likely intensify the symptoms of separation anxiety.
Practice, practice, and more practice! It may seem silly to practice leaving your child, but it can actually help ease their separation anxiety. Start out with leaving your child with their caregiver for a short amount of time, like 15 minutes to a half hour. This will allow them to develop a trust that you will return safely and indefinitely. By slowly increasing the time your child is without you, they will begin to develop a tolerance for separations.
Keeping things familiar is another good way to help infants and toddlers cope with separation anxiety. If possible, have the caregiver come to your home. This will help your child to be more comfortable in the environment that they are used to. If this is not possible, make sure your child has something from the house. It could be a favorite blanket or pillow, stuffed animal, or toy. Anything that will provide them with the comfort of home can be a great stress reliever when it comes to separation anxiety.
Keep Them Busy
Encourage caregivers to occupy your child’s time with activities to do while you are away. This will keep their minds busy and off of the fact that you are not there. Suggest having them draw a picture for you both to hang up when you get back. Perhaps, they could make you a noodle necklace, play with their building blocks or pick a good story for you both to read before bedtime. Anything that will help to pass time can decrease the effects of separation anxiety.
Most importantly, educate yourself about separation anxiety. Sometimes it can be more, which is known as separation anxiety disorder. Although general separation anxiety is normal, sometimes when there is extreme distress, the help of a professional may be needed. You and your child should seek a professional’s help when your child shows…
- an intense fear that something bad will happen to either you or them
- constant worry and overwhelming terror
- a strong concern that separation will become permanent through an unexpected event
- signs of distress through bad dreams and nightmares
- physical sickness such as headaches or stomachaches
Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder are very similar to that of normal separation anxiety. The major difference lies in the intensity of the fears. When they begin to get in the way of your child’s normal activities, or if you are unsure, seek professional help.
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