Toddlers and Separation Anxiety
Whether it is for day care or with a baby sitter, there will come a time when your toddler will get a bit anxious at the idea of not being so close to you. For most young children being separated from their parents is a common fear starting at around the age of eight months up to the age of two. Just remember that your toddler is expressing anxiety at being separated from what they know as being safe in their world. As they get older their confidence will increase and these feelings will begin to settle down.
When a child acts fearful while being apart from their parents or guardians, they are experiencing separation anxiety. This is likely to begin when they are able to recognise between you, the parents, and other people like family, friends and strangers.
Thankfully there are some signs you can identify to help get through this experience. If your toddler experiences anxiety when they are separated from you, they can:
- Suddenly become a bit clingy and struggle when you are attempting to put them down or hand them over to someone else
- Feign that they are not feeling well in an attempt to keep you close
- Worry about themselves or their parents being hurt or in an accident
- Refuse to go to day care or even other people's homes if they know you won't be with them
So now that you know some of the signs, here are some tips on how to help relieve your toddler's anxiety about being separated:
- Do a little bit of preparation; let your toddler know ahead of time that you are going somewhere. You can even try to turn it into something fun for them, e.g. you could tell them "I need to go to the shops and I will be home right after you have finished eating your lunch. Then I can show you what I have bought at the store".
- Remember that this is a process. Make sure you tell them when you are leaving so over time they can get used to this idea. Sneaking out when your child is settled may seem like a good idea but it can upset or confuse them when they realise you're not there. It can also set a pattern, and it may be more difficult to leave the next time.
- Help your toddler to know when you will be back, telling them in a way which they can understand, such as after nap time'. Being consistent with when you said you would be back helps your toddler begin to trust this process. If something comes up and you can't get back on time, let the person who is minding your toddler know so they can tell your little one.
- Don't drag out your goodbyes, make sure to say good bye but make it short and sweet. Keeping a relaxed, happy expression on your face can help them from thinking something is wrong or from becoming upset.
- Games are a great way to begin to practice being separated from you. You may like to play games with your toddler, such as, hide and seek. This can help them learn that you always come back to them.
- Reading your little one stories that involve a theme of separation, like various fairy tales, can increase their understanding.
- Starting an activity they enjoy before you leave can help keep them calm. You can also try leaving an object that they love, like their favourite toy or stuffed animal.
- When leaving your toddler in a new environment that they are not used to, such as child care or with a babysitter, it is a good idea to spend some time with them before the separation. You could take them on a tour or play with them for a while in the new place. This can help them understand that they are being left in a safe place.
All of this may sound a little bit scary, but just remember that most children experience some sort of fear or worry at some point. If your toddler appears to be distressed on a regular basis about being separated from you, be sure to see a health care professional. A child's heath and overall happiness can be affected by severe anxiety.