As a working mom, separation anxiety in children creates questions for me. Sometimes I even suffer a lot from separation anxiety just as a parent.
Although it is an entirely normal behavior and a beautiful sign of a meaningful attachment, separation anxiety can be exquisitely unsettling for us all.
The trick for surviving separation anxiety demands preparation, brisk transitions, and the evolution of time. I would suggest we parents suffer as much as our children do when we leave.
Even though we are often reminded that our children stop crying within minutes of our leave-taking, how many of you have felt like you’re “doing it all wrong” when your child clings to your legs, sobs for you to stay, and mourns the parting?
The Importance to Deal With Separation Anxiety in Children
Separation anxiety is a normal stage of emotional development that starts when babies begin to understand that things and people exist even when they’re not present — a concept called object permanence.
At certain stages, most babies or toddlers will show true anxiety and become upset at the prospect — or reality — of being separated from a parent.
If you think about separation anxiety in evolutionary terms, it makes sense: A defenseless baby would naturally get upset over being taken away from the person who protects and cares for him.
Separation anxiety varies widely between children. Some babies become hysterical when mom is out of sight for a very short time, while other children seem to demonstrate ongoing anxiety at separations during infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool, just like my little girl.
It seemed that I’ve made about every mistake when my little girl suffered from separation anxiety during her infancy and toddlerhood, so I spent lot of time to search the fact of separation anxiety and tips to improve the transitions.
I learned those tips and practiced the hard way when sent her to the kindergarten as a preschooler.
Though normal separation anxiety will pass, it is important for parents to take steps to make it more manageable. In the meantime, try to appreciate the sweetness of knowing that to your child, you’re number one.
Fact and Sympotoms of Separation Anxiety
Separation Anxiety in Babies
Separation anxiety develops after a child gains an understanding of object permanence. Babies can show signs of separation anxiety as early as 6 or 7 months, but for most babies it peaks between 10 to 18 months.
Most commonly, separation anxiety strikes when you leave your child to go to work or run an errand.
Your baby can also experience separation anxiety at night, safely tucked in her crib with you right in the next room.
Separation anxiety usually eases by the time babies are about 24 months old. But for me and my girl, it became worse and worse. So that depends.
Separation Anxiety in Toddlers
As children develop independence during toddlerhood, they may become even more aware of separations. Many toddlers skip separation anxiety in infancy and start demonstrating challenges at 15 or 18 months of age.
Separations are more difficult when children are hungry, tired, or sick — which is most of toddlerhood!
Whenever I looked back to the signs of my little girl’s separation anxiety in her toddlerhood, especially at the time of weaning at 19 months of age, her behaviors at separations was loud, tearful and difficult to stop, and tears filled my eyes every day and night.
Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers
By the time children are about 3 years of age or even earlier, most of the children are being sent to the preschool or daycare center (as a working mom, I sent my little girl to the kindergarden when she was 2 years and a half).
Every morning when you drop off your little ones and saying good-bye to them at the preschool or daycare door, your cutie cues up the whimpering, clinging, and begging (“Please don’t leave me!”) — all sure signs of preschool or daycare separation anxiety.
While this behavior is totally normal, particularly at fraught moments like school or daycare drop-off, it certainly isn’t easy on parents.
The Wrong Way I Deal With My Kid’s Separation Anxiety
As my husband and I own an online store together, so we are just like freelancers and can take care of our little girl day and night by ourselves, no need grandparents’ or baysitters’ help.
However, when she was about 19 months age, we needed to take new trainning to improve our business, while I was the one who focus on the training, so I needed to work outside as a working mom, so my husband took the responsibility to look after the baby.
I also decided to start weaning at that time because I had to go outside for training and working.
I just thought that my husband was the people who was very familar to our baby, there should be no problem, so I never considered of seperation anxiety at that time even she and I were both frustrated and stressed everyday.
What’s worse than that, I never sticked to a routine and never said goodbye to my baby at any time when I was leaving. Because for my baby, goodbyes were full of tears, screams, and outbursts.
Each time I was off to go, I just told my husband to take the baby to another room and then left quietly without my baby’s knowing, what I did just want to save the time, because I was hurry up to catch a plane or metro.
That was the biggest reason why my kid’s separation anxiety became worse and worse. She never knew when I was leaving, never knew when I was back.
Every minute she was looking for her mommy when stayed with her daddy; anytime when I was at home, she was clinging on my leg all the time, even when I needed to go to the toilet, because she was afraid that her mommy would disappear in the air.
The worse separation anxiety she suffered, the more time I wished to save, until the day I sent her to the kindergarten.
I realized that I also suffered the same separation anxiety as she did, I also realized all the mistake I have made for my kid’s separation anxiety.
From that day, I decide to search and learn the tips to improve the transitions, try to ease the separation anxiety in my poor little girl. Hope these tips can also help you who is suffering separation anxiety with your children at any age.
Remommend Tips to Ease Children’s Separation Anxiety
When being separated from you upsets your child, it might be because they don’t understand when you will come back or may feel anxious around unfamiliar people or places. Common thoughts children have in this situation are:
- - ‘I don’t feel safe without my mum or dad.’
- - ‘Something bad will happen and I may never see them again.’
- - ‘I’m scared and don’t know what to do.’
What You Should Do — Here are suggestions:
1. PREPARE YOUR CHILD
Practice at home. It will be easier for your baby to cope with your absence if she’s the one who initiates a separation. Let her crawl off to another room on her own (one where you’re sure she’ll be safe unsupervised briefly), and wait a couple minutes before going after her.
You can also tell your baby you’re leaving the room, where you’re going, and that you’ll be back. Either way, your child will learn that everything will be okay when you’re gone for a minute or two — and that you’ll always come back.
Give your baby time to get comfortable. Hire a new sitter to visit and play with your baby several times before leaving them alone for the first time. For your first real outing, ask the sitter to arrive about 30 minutes before you depart, so that she and the baby can be well engaged before you step out the door.
Take the same approach if you’re dropping off your baby at a friend or relative’s house — show up early enough to get your baby acquainted and comfortable with the caregiver.
Try a trial at first. Limit the first night or afternoon out to no more than an hour. As you and your baby become more familiar with the sitter or the childcare setting, you can extend your outings.
2. BUILD TRUST
Always say goodbye. Kiss and hug your baby when you leave. Tell her where you’re going and when you’ll be back, but don’t prolong your goodbyes. Resist the urge to sneak out the back door. Your baby will only become more upset if she thinks you disappeared into the air.
Keep it light. Your baby is tuned in to how you feel, so show warmth and enthusiasm for the caregiver you’ve chosen. Try not to cry or act upset if your baby starts crying — at least not while she can see you.
You’ll both get through this. The caregiver will probably tell you later that your baby’s tears stopped even before you were out of the driveway.
Once you leave, leave. Repeated trips back into the house or daycare center to check on your baby only make it harder on you, your child, and the caregiver.
When separating, give your child full attention, be loving, and provide affection. Then say good-bye quickly despite her antics or cries for you to stay.
Give triple kisses at the cubby, or provide a special blanket or toy as you leave, keep the good-bye short and sweet. If you linger, the transition time does too. So will the anxiety.
3. BUILD FEELINGS OF SAFETY
Make it routine and be consistent: Try to do the same drop-off with the same ritual at the same time each day you separate to avoid unexpected factors whenever you can.
A routine can diminish the heartache and will allow your child to simultaneously build trust in her independence and in you.
Be specific, child style. When you discuss your return, provide specifics that your child understands. If you know you’ll be back by 3:00 pm, tell it to your child on his terms; for example, say, “I’ll be back after nap time and before afternoon snack.”
Define time he can understand. Talk about your return from a business trip in terms of “sleeps.” Instead of saying, “I’ll be home in 3 days,” say, “I’ll be home after 3 sleeps.”
Practice being apart. Ship the children off to grandma’s home, schedule playdates, allow friends and family to provide child care for you (even for an hour) on the weekend.
Before starting child care or preschool, practice going to school and your good-bye ritual before you even have to part ways. Give your child a chance to prepare, experience, and thrive in your absence!
When you pick up your child, spend extra time with them to reconnect again. Talk with your child about their day and what they enjoyed. Bring a favourite toy or a photo from home to help give your child a feeling of security and familiarity.
Pay Attention To Your Own Feelings
Separation anxiety can be hard on parents too, especially if their baby gets hysterical when they leave or seems to prefer one parent over the other. (For my baby, all the time she just prefer me over her father).
You might feel guilty about leaving your baby with someone else and worry about him while you’re apart. If your baby wants your attention all the time, you may feel exhausted, frazzled, or even resentful.
It’s okay to have these emotions. Just keep reminding yourself that separation anxiety is normal and temporary: Your child is learning to trust you and is developing important skills on his way to independence.
Although you may be feeling overwhelmed, keep in mind that separation anxiety is a sign of healthy attachment.
Don’t forget that it’s not just children who can find separation upsetting. It’s also normal for parents to find the process distressing and you should make sure you have strategies to deal with this as well.
It’s rare that separation anxiety persists on a daily basis after the preschool years. If you’re concerned that your child isn’t adapting to being without you, chat with the pediatrician.
Your pediatrician has certainly helped support families in the same situation and can help calm your unease and determine a plan to support both of you!
Talk to the service’s staff, who will be able to give you insight into your child’s experience and how they are responding to the new environment. Staff may suggest additional strategies to assist your child through the transition into care.
Everything will be better!