Most children will experience intense separation anxiety at some point in their early developmental years and as a parent, it can be tricky to cope with it. It’s not always easy and it often accompanied by lots of guilt.
I originally wrote this post two years ago and I thought it would be a good time to review and refresh it, given my experience the second time around. I can say upfront that both of them experienced it around the age of 10 months.
Seperation anxiety can simply be described as the anxiety/crying/clinginess a child feels when they are seperated from their primary caregiver (e.g a parent or nanny). The idea of your child being attached to you all the time may seem cute at first, but it can develop into a serious disorder at a later stage.
Most children start to show some signs of seperation anxiety at around nine months and it can continue up to the age of three.
The key to combating separation anxiety, is helping your child feel as secure and safe as possible.
This will also help to prevent this escalating to Separation Anxiety Disorder, which is a more serious emotional problem.
What you can do to help your baby or toddler with separation anxiety:
Practice in advance
Start by leaving your child with a trusted care giver for shorter periods of time first, for example 30-45 minutes while you go grocery shopping. Soon you will both be used to having periods of time when you’re apart.
Always say/wave goodbye
We tend to avoid this because we know/think that they will cry, however, this leads to your child believing that you can disappear at any given moment, making them even more clingy and insecure. Create your own goodbye ritual and once you have said your goodbye, leave immediately. The same would apply if you are dropping them off at play school or gogo’s house.
Ironically, what I am finding to be the most challenging thing right now, is the after-work clinginess… Once I come through that door, its ‘mommy-this, mommy-that’ and I’m followed everywhere. Naturally, after spending the morning at school and the afternoon at home with our nanny, all my toddler wants is to be my tail. I get it and most times I even love it, but there are days when I just want to shut my bedroom door and gather myself for 10 minutes.
Manage the changeover process
Don’t rush out as soon as your nanny or caregiver arrives. Allow them to get 20 – 30 minutes together to get acquainted and comfortable, then leave. Get them to start an activity or play a game just before you leave, as a distraction.
Keep the environment consistent
A new school, house or caregiver could cause your child great anxiety. Where possible, keep things consistent.
Don’t guilt-trip yourself
That moment when you return to work after maternity leave is one of the most painful ones. The reality is that at some point, we will all have to leave them, for one reason or the other. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed by it all, but I can assure you that it DOES get better. Please don’t wallow in guilt – focus on the positive, like planning quality time with them on the weekend. Cherralle from My Daily Cake blog, recently wrote a blog post on parenting burnout, which I absolutely loved anc could relate to as a parent.
Helping your older child with separation anxiety:
Address your child’s feelings by speaking to them about any new changes or worries that could be causing the anxiety. Something as small as losing a pet could trigger a child’s anxiety, don’t ignore their feelings. Make time to reassure them and help them through the process. I wrote a post about helping my son through grief, which you may find helpful.
Encourage your child to participate in other physical and social extramural activities, to help them keep their mind off the anxiety.
Acknowledge and reward your child for any progress that they make with regards to their anxiety, it will go a long way. Your child looks to you most, for that extra love and validation.
If your child’s anxieties and fears don’t improve after a few weeks, consider visiting a professional child psychiatrist or child psychologist.
Modern Zulu Mom