TIPS TO DEAL WITH YOUR TODDLER’S SEPARATION ANXIETY
During a recent school interview, we noted that the teacher interviewing our son annotated the words “separation anxiety” on her notepad. This got me thinking, not because I wasn’t aware that our son hates it when we leave him alone, but I started wondering if perhaps it could become a serious “challenge” for us as a family in the long run. Having read some of the online information on “separation anxiety” it isn’t too clear when as a parent one should become concerned.
SIGNS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY
During the toddler stage, it does seem to be part of their development. If your child gets emotional by crying, throwing a tantrum or clinging onto you or your spouse when you’re about to leave them behind either at preschool or home or even if you’re just in a different room of the house, your child could be experiencing separation anxiety. At this toddler stage of their lives, kids believe that they can’t survive without their parents. During this time of their lives, toddlers do not have any concept of time.
EXAMPLE – How many times do your kids ask for “10 more minutes of TV” to which you agree but in reality, after two minutes you tell them the 10 minutes are up? They accept that it’s actually been 10 minutes. According to Dr Erin Boyd-Soisson a professor at the Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, “anxiety serves to keep the child close to their caregiver, who is their source of love and safety.“
These are other signs to look out for that may indicate that your child may become anxious when they have to be apart from you the parent.
- Fear that harm will happen to their parent(s)
- Nightmares about being separated from their parent(s)
- Refuse to go to school
- Reluctance to go to sleep
- Hate being left alone
- Complain of head or stomach aches
- Clingy with the parent(s)
There doesn’t seem to be one specific trigger for separation anxiety. As any of these listed below could cause it:
- Change in environment – like a new school
- Stress – traumatic experiences due to loss of a loved one or pet or divorce
- Over-Protective parent – the parent’s own anxiety feeds that of the child and vice versa
- Separation from their birth-mother (adoption) – as a mother/child bond is formed in utero
- mother feeling stressed during pregnancy
DID YOU KNOW
Until the age of 5, children fear being getting lost, or no longer being loved by parents, some of the other possible contributors that add to their separation anxiety. Personally, I’ve seen this with our son, where either hubby or I have had to assure him that we love him and will not leave him unless we need to go to work and him to school, but assure him that we will be back to collect him.
Personally, I’ve seen this with our son, where either hubby or I have had to assure him that we love him and will not leave him unless we need to go to work and him to school, but assure him that we will be back to collect him. Which we do!
HOW A PARENT CAN HELP
According to Dr Boyd-Soisson separation anxiety is normal behaviour and part of development behaviour for toddlers and preschoolers. It is normally outgrown but may return during illness or a stressful situation. Important to remember that each child is unique, so do not compare your situation with that of a friend by how quickly or long it took your friend’s child to outgrow this phase.
Other ways to assist your child with their separation anxiety are:
- Prepare your child about your departure. Let them know that you will return and how much they mean to you
- Introduce a “secret handshake” that belongs only to you and your child
- Do NOT drag your goodbyes! This only makes your child think there may be something wrong. Make your goodbye routine quick and similar every time you need to leave
- Do NOT act anxious, as this makes your child think there may be something wrong
- NEVER leave without saying goodbye! This only causes the child to worry and believe that you may disappear without warning and results in more clingy behaviour from them
- When you arrive at a gathering full of unfamiliar faces, do NOT push your child to interact and run off without them, rather follow their lead. Let them get comfortable. Pushing them to interact with strangers too soon upon arrival, only works against you for the next time and fuels their anxiety
WHEN SEPARATION ANXIETY BECOMES A DISORDER FOR YOUR CHILD
Start off by consulting a Child Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Pediatric Neurologist to diagnose the disorder. They can assist identify the source of anxiety and assist your child in developing coping mechanisms.
Professional assessment and treatment may include:
- Talk Therapy
- Play Therapy
- Family Counseling
- School-based Counseling
If separation anxiety is left untreated this could lead to depression, anxiety challenges, personality disorders as adults. Identify if your child does have a challenge with separation and learn to cope and develop healthier ways to deal with their separation anxiety.
Have you, like us, a child with separation anxiety? How are you managing it?
Clip on separation anxiety made it so clear for me and how to approach it with our son.
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