If you’ve ever dropped your child off for nursery and they screamed their lungs out or tried to leave them with grandparents for a weekend and they clung to your leg as you walked out the door, you’ve experienced separation anxiety firsthand. Helping your child overcome separation anxiety may feel like an exercise in futility, but there are some things you can do to help your child conquer this fear.
What is Separation Anxiety?
First of all, understand that separation anxiety is a common occurrence in children, particularly between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. Children this age are still learning that, when their parents leave, they aren’t gone for good. Children may cry and hold onto their parents extra tight, not wanting to let them go essentially out of an (irrational, but very real to them) fear that they will never see them again.
How Do I Help My Child Overcome Separation Anxiety?
There are a few ways you can help your child get past the fear of you leaving.
- Make your goodbye short and sweet: The more you drag out your goodbyes, the harder it will be on your child. So don’t linger. Say, “I love you! I’ll see you soon!” with a quick kiss or hug and leave. It may be hard to do this the first few times, but do it consistently and it will become easier with time.
- Meet your child’s needs before you leave: Double check that all of your child’s physical needs are met before you pass them off. For example, be sure they have just eaten, have a fresh pull-up/diaper on, and are well-rested.
- Give them something to look forward to: If you make fun plans, your child may be less inclined to mourn your absence. “When I get back, we’re going to go to Target together. While I’m gone, can you draw a list for me of things we need to remember to get?”
- Leave your child with a comfort item: You could leave a necklace, a photo of you, or even a favorite stuffed animal sprayed with a bit of your perfume or cologne. Tell them that whenever they miss you, they can look at or snuggle with that item and remember that you’re coming back soon.
Things to Avoid When Trying to Help Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety
If you want to help your child overcome separation anxiety, don’t belittle their fears. When you are leaving your child, they think you’re never coming back! How scary it must be for them to feel that way! Communicate empathy and comfort in your conversations prior to your departure. Tell them you know how hard it is to say “see you later,” but reassure them you are coming back soon and can’t wait to see them when you return.
On the flip side, when your child cries and begs you not to leave, it’s so tempting to give in to their fears and not leave them! But this doesn’t solve the problem either. Getting some time away on a date or a child-free trip to the grocery store is good for you as a parent. And learning to be separate from yourself is beneficial for your child as well. Don’t feel bad about leaving your child with another trusted, responsible individual.
“There is no reason to feel guilty when you need to leave your child for a short period of time. Focus instead on helping your child to learn how to manage their feelings without you – an important part of helping them to become more independent.”unicef.org