What is Separation Anxiety?
When left with a new caregiver, such as with a babysitter or at a daycare center, it is common for babies, toddlers, and children to experience separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is the feeling of worry or dread a child may experience when being left with an unfamiliar caregiver, with the major concern being that their primary caregiver will not return. Whether you are gone for a few seconds or several hours, it is normal for your child to experience separation anxiety, which is commonly expressed through crying or clinging to your body.
Separation anxiety typically occurs in children between the ages of 18 months to 2.5 years of age because as they develop into more independent toddlers, children become more aware of being separated from their primary caregiver. New and stressful life changes, such as being left in the supervision of a new caregiver, moving to a new location, or having a new sibling can trigger separation anxiety in children.
Depending on the child’s temperament and living environment, separation anxiety can persist from infancy and throughout childhood. If your child’s separation anxiety prevents them from participating in normal activities, such as playdates or after-school activities, this may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder and you should seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.
Ways to Manage Separation Anxiety in Children
There are a variety of ways to help manage separation anxiety in children, especially when saying goodbye to your child. One of the most important things to remember is to be confident and consistent. Whether you are dropping your child off at daycare or a birthday party, it is crucial to instill confidence in your child. This can be done through calmly reminding them you will return using time markers they will understand, for example after lunch time, and giving a loving and firm goodbye. It is also important to be consistent with these goodbyes, meaning not coming back due to crying and also returning at the time that was promised.
I also recommend trying to practice working up to being separated for longer periods of time. This could mean slowly introducing your child to new people and places together, so when the time comes for your child to be left there with a different caregiver, they are more familiar with the environment.
Although it can be emotionally challenging, for both you and your child, it is important to allow your child to build confidence and independence through letting them gain new experiences on their own. And remember, this phase of their life will pass as they get older and is a normal part of growing up and exploring the world.