While separation anxiety in children is common, it can be a chance for them to understand that there are times when they are going to be unhappy.
Therefore, for a child to manage his life, he has to learn how to cope with separation. On the other hand, to make this transition easier for a child, it is better for parents to start early when it comes to teaching toddlers how to cope with separation anxiety. Most of the time, parents and teachers fail to realize that separation anxiety in children does occur, so they do not what to expect from a child and how to deal with him. It is essential for a parent to understand that separation anxiety in children can occur overnight. When parents think they have already dodged the stressful years, separation anxiety in children can come roaring back. However, as they understand that it can still occur when they least expect it, they become more prepared with the right solutions. Normally separation anxiety in children happens at the age of 6 or 8 months, and it can resurface in toddler and pre-school years, which creates a new challenge for the parent. Separation anxiety in children usually lasts for no longer than a few weeks and the child will eventually grow out of it. However, parents need to understand why it is happening and start taking action before they have to consider going to a therapist in the long run.
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Why and When It Happens?
More often than not, separation anxiety first hits at the age of 6 months when babies realize they are separate from their parents and strive for independence, yet they need their parents’ love and support. So when you are not around, they most likely feel that they are being abandoned for life, even if you are only going to the bathroom!
Normally a child grows out of separation anxiety when they are 2 or almost 3 years old. However, it can still last for another year or two especially that the child is now more self-aware and understands that you are his source of everything—comfort, support, and love. At this stage, even if you are leaving your child for a few hours or during their daycare time, they still feel you are abandoning them and they start seeking this little extra attention they are expecting from you.Children at this age often want to take control of their lives, so they will keep wailing until they get a reaction from their parent.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Children:
Fear of unexpected events
Children suffering from a separation anxiety disorder often share common symptoms. It is normal for a child to be worried about unexpected events. But when things become extreme, a child is always threatened and feels that this event can happen at any time and that their loved ones may get hurt. Encountering this issue is common; however, parents will need to remind their children with previous similar situations that did not cause them or their loved ones any damage.
Separation anxiety in children might also trigger dreams about different types of separation. Most of the time, these dreams will turn into nightmares where children think they are unable to find their parents. They start screaming and running to their parents’ room looking for reassurance.
Anxiousness about School
Children start to freak out when they are being sent off to school for a long day. Also, it is very difficult for a child to share the teacher’s attention with all those other kids. At this point, separation anxiety in children escalates and school becomes a big issue for the child.
Reluctance to Sleep
Going to bed is a form of separation for most children. They feel they cannot have an eye on the person they think they are going to be separated from. Therefore, they will not normally want to go to bed or try to stall their bedtime to make sure they can still stay up late with their parents.
Having headaches or falling ill is normal for children. However, when it becomes a constant issue, it is most likely that the child is playing sick to get himself out of a certain situation. The problem can be medical, but it can also be another form of separation anxiety in children. If the issue is persisting, parents should consider seeing a doctor.
Clinging is a common characteristic for most children; however, when the behavior does not stop at a certain age, parents may want to know that this is a form of separation anxiety in children. If they do not realize that this is a problem, it will cost both parent and child in the long run. That is why parents may need to send their children away or get them used to spending time with other caregivers.
Ways to Overcome Separation Anxiety in Children
Make them Understand
Despite their limited vocabulary, children can still understand what you are trying to communicate. So it is very important before departure that you give details on where you are going and when you are coming back. This makes the departure smoother for the child by knowing that you will be back at a certain time.
Only simple words can do all the magic and save you all the tantrums, tears, and fears at the time of departure. You only need to remind your child that you will be back soon and nothing wrong is going to happen to you. However, if parents give false reassurance, they will normally lose their child’s trust and may increase separation anxiety in children.
Keep Them Engaged
Give your child a small job or activity to be engaged in while you are away. This will redirect their attention away from the departure. It is always helpful to give your child fun things to do like coloring a book or watching a kids’ TV program.
Expose to Other Caregivers
Introduce your child to other caregivers like a babysitter, relatives, or friends. This may minimize the separation anxiety later on as your child becomes more familiar with other “faces” than the “always available” parents.
Develop a Goodbye Ritual
When the child feels he has been in this situation before, it provides a sense of security and more reassurance. It can be only a simple ritual as giving two kisses and a high five before you leave.
Call and Check
If you intend to be away for a long time, make sure you always call and check on your child. You can also distract them with other topics by asking how their day was or telling them funny anecdotes.
Give Extra Love
When you return home, always greet with extra love, hugs, and kisses. This will give your child the feeling that they always have your care and support.
Give Them More Praise
When you praise your child for their good behavior while you were away, they will always make sure that they maintain this behavior every time you are not home.
Keep a Reminder of You
While you are absent, leave a personal object to keep your child feel safe and secured. You can leave some “security” objects like a photograph, an old jacket that has your smell, your child’s favorite blanket, or a stuffed animal.
Make Them Understand
It is very helpful to teach your child how he feels. When they learn how to express their fears, this gives them a chance to diffuse their separation anxiety.
What to Avoid?
Don’t dash out the door while your child is not paying attention that you are leaving. This may save you from the pain of seeing your child crying and wailing over your departure, yet it will make the separation anxiety way more intense. You don’t want your child to suddenly notice that you are gone without communicating it with them.
Avoid making dramatic and long goodbyes. This will only make the situation worse and increase separation anxiety in children. When your child feels you are not comfortable with leaving them, he will always sense that something wrong is about to happen. Instead, make the departure simple, flash a smile, and always remind them that you will return.
Don’t Give in to Your Child’s Demands
We all tend to give in when things get overwhelming, but remember that a child always needs structure and routine. Whenever you feel you are caving in to your child demands, remind yourself of the rules you have established. If it gets really overwhelming, give some extra love and stick to your routine.
Don’t Bribe Your Child
Treating your child with sweets will only lead to eating problems and will hardly solve the separation anxiety problem.
It is never a good idea to reappear after you have left. It makes your child feel that the departure is also giving you a hard time. You only have to show confidence as you leave, reassure your child, and go on with whatever you need to do.
– Practice separation by letting your child spend a few hours away at their grandparent’s house or a friend’s place.
– Make a chart that counts down to the days until school starts. This can work as a motivation for your child to plan and prepare for school.
– Set up a play date with other children before school starts. This will help your child adapt more easily to new surroundings.
– Go shopping together for school supplies. Remember to make it a fun experience and let your child pick up their own books, pencils, notebooks, crayons, etc…
– Get them back on sleeping time after long, hot summer months. It helps adjust their body clocks to school time again.
– Visit classroom with your child and get them familiar with the place of pickup.
– Have everything prepared and let your child pick out their outfit the night before.
– Plan for some quality time during bedtime routine. Read books and share stories to make your child feel safe.
– Give rewards for getting out the door on time. This will make your child less anxious, even more excited about the experience and look forward to the reward.
– Be always on time for the pickup and make it an occasion to celebrate. Show how you are proud of your child and praise them for their good behavior while you were away.
At many times separation anxiety in children can be unnoticeable. But being aware of the problem and ways of addressing it will eventually help both parents and children to overcome it. Learning the signs and knowing how to cope with the issue will let parents be more prepared with the solutions. When parents have a better understanding on how to deal with the problem, they will be more confident about raising their children, and therefore will make them feel better about what they are doing.They can even turn it into a fun and exciting experience by trying to apply some creative ways of coping with separation anxiety disorder.