Managing separation anxiety in children
You might go to the shop for ten minutes but all your young, highly impressionable child sees is YOU going out THAT door or locking yourself away behind that OTHER door.
It doesn’t matter that you’ll be back in next to no time, for your child this is a crisis of monumental proportions. As far as they areconcerned, they can’t see you, therefore you’re gone FOREVER.
That’s early separation anxiety. Every child goes through it and every parent has to deal with it. The first thing you need to realise is this…
Separation anxiety is normal
Most children will suffer from separation anxiety to some extent as they tune into the family dynamics around them and work out who matters and who doesn’t. Unfortunately, no sooner have they done that than one of the people they have deemed central to their world starts kissing them goodbye and disappearing for 10 hours, 5 days a week.
And let’s not forget, to a 3 year old child, 10 hours is an eternity. A toddler hasn’t developed any real grasp of time. All they know is that they hate it when you’re gone and you’re always gone too long.
Soon after there comes a stage when you need to send your child to childcare where they have to deal with a whole new concept in separation anxiety –of staying in an unfamiliar environment.
But remember this; every event in your child’s life – good or bad - will be a single event happening one at a time in a manageable, if random order. The same is true of each event in the separation anxiety journey.
What are the symptoms of separation anxiety?
Ear-piercing screaming. Need we say more? No, we must, because separation anxiety can also be expressed via a more passive, yet persistent clinginess. Your child simply won’t let go of Mum or refuses to let any other relative or friend hold them.
Again, normal and often merely a phase.
Now, the all-important question: How do we deal with separation anxiety in our kids?
Teach your kids the concept of coming back
That’s the real key; your child needs to understand that ‘leaving’ also involves ‘coming home’. So practice. Start small with either parent leaving the house for short periods and returning with a big hug.
If babysitters or nannies are coming into the mix, make the transition gradual with short separations before you go for the big movie and meal night out.
If your child is tired, don’t go anywhere
At least until they get the whole concept of ‘coming back’. A tired child can be irrational and unreasonable. So do try to time your departures after a nap when they’re fresh and happy.
Forget long, slow goodbyes
Yes, as parents we naturally want to coat our child in kisses before we go out, but all that does is make leaving seem like a big deal. Tell them you’re leaving, where you’re going and when you’ll be back, quick kiss, GO!
Keep to your word
If you say you’re going to be back in half an hour, don’t return in two. The trust, belief and confidence required to break down the barriers of separation anxiety will only come if you do as you say, especially as your child gets older.
So there you have it, a few tips to move your child on and into a world of early confidence and independence.