Toddlers and young children develop deep attachments to their parents, for obvious reasons. They look to their parents for comfort, security and support. That’s why, for many toddlers and young children, they begin to experience what is known as ‘separation anxiety’ when their parents are not around.
In this week’s article, we look at some most commonly asked questions surrounding separation anxiety in toddlers and young kids. We also provide some practical tips to help parents deal with separation anxiety. Have a look.
Separation anxiety, quite simply, is demonstrated by your toddler or young child when he or she cries, shouts, screams and kicks up a serious fuss when you leave him or her alone. Although some toddlers or children might demonstrate this behaviour in less dramatic ways, separation anxiety tends to involve a significant display of distress.
Firstly, separation anxiety is extremely common and entirely normal. It’s not something to get overly concerned about. Although different factors can influence the degree to which a child feels distress when separated from their parent, there are some common causes.
As your toddler grows more independent and mobile, they will begin to explore their environment a little more. And yet, up to now, they have relied heavily on their parent’s presence for safety and comfort. As a result, it will take time for them to adjust to the idea of not having a parent - or a surrogate adult - at close proximity. Not only that, but toddlers and young children often have difficulty understanding time. What may actually be five minutes can feel like an hour to a toddler.
How to Deal with Separation Anxiety
Begin by slowly getting your little one used to your absence. You can start small, by stepping out of the room for a few minutes, and then returning. You can increase the length of time you’re out of the room incrementally, over a few weeks, and begin to familiarise your child to the experience.
Let your toddler or young child know when you’ll be returning, and always try to return at the promised time. For toddlers and young kids, ten minutes can feel like fifty - so be conscious of this when planning your day.
It’s also a good idea to use timeframes your toddler will understand. So, instead of saying you’ll be back in a few hours, or at a specific time, say you’ll be back right after ‘lunch-time’, ‘dinner-time’, or ‘nap-time’. Your child will have a much better idea of when you plan on returning if you use milestones they understand.
It might seem a little over the top, but some kids find it re-assuring to have a photo or memento of their mother or father with them. A photo, perhaps, or hat, or glove - anything that acts as a reminder of your presence.
If your child gets upset or begins to throw a wobbly just as you’re about to leave, try remain as calm and patient as possible. It can be easy to lose your patience if you’re in a rush or have an appointment, but it’s important that your child knows you acknowledge his or her distress, and soothe her concerns. Listen to her concerns and explain that you know how she feels. Then re-assure her that you’ll be coming back at the agreed-upon time and not to worry. This will make for a much easier experience for all concerned.
One possible way to avoid a big tantrum is to distract your toddler or child with something fun before you leave. So, if you’re leaving your toddler with a babysitter or minder for a few hours, get your babysitter to start playing a game, reading a book or doing an activity with your toddler before you leave. That way, although he or she may still be upset when you leave, she will have something fun to return to after.
If possible, keep an upbeat attitude when dropping your toddler off or leaving them with a babysitter. Talk about all the fun things they have planned while you’re away and get them excited about the day. Because toddler and young kids are sensitive to your moods and body language, they can easily pick up on negative emotions or anxiety. For this reason, try stay chirpy and laid-back when dropping them off.