Is your child having difficulties separating from you? Separation Anxiety is one of the most common concerns in early childhood and preschool age.
Separation anxiety is part of normal development in children. It usually appears around 8 months when babies start crawling. At this age, they become more independent, but are still wary of going too far from you. It also coincides with an important skill in cognitive development, object permanence. This is the understanding that objects exist even when we don’t see them. You might remember that before this age you baby was happy to go to anyone, but around this age he/she started being distressed when you were out of sight. Separation anxiety is often a sign of healthy or secure attachment to parents. When a child trusts their parent, and sees the parent as a secure base, then he/she will feel distressed when they are not there. When they haven’t had any opportunity to be left with anyone else than yourself, they will feel more distressed on separating. After all, they don’t know that it is only temporary. There are individual differences in children’s temperament and personality. Some children are more anxious and sensitive and would need more support in learning how to separate from you.
• Ensure your child familiarises with the environment and the routine before the first time you leave him/her. It might take a few visits.
• Provide information to the centre about your child; about their interests, their personality and their needs.
• Participate in the orientation program and get familiar with the teachers and gradually increase the time you leave your child, if needed.
• Expose your child to many different people, situations, and environments.
• Prepare your child by talking about the new environment.
• Use a visual timetable to talk about the daily events, particularly if your child does not have much language yet.
• Be patient, it takes time to get used to new environment and it will depend on the individual child and their previous experiences in separating from you.
• Don’t forget to say goodbye, it is best not to just leave unnoticed.
• Ensure you explain to your child you will come back later to pick them up.
• Establish a routine where before leaving you do something, such as give each other a kiss.
• Distract the child with favourite toys and activities or ask the child’s teacher to become involved. There may be a teacher your child would feel most comfortable with.
• Stay calm and be firm. You can leave once you’ve said goodbye. Don’t panic. Your child is very likely to settle when you leave.
It is important to remember that separation anxiety might increase at certain times of changes, such as birth of a sibling, moving houses, or divorce. Also, when you are stressed yourself about something, your child might pick up your emotions and will display separation anxiety as a reaction to not knowing what is happening with you. Children feel calmer when you are in control. At those times, children might “regress” and would need more temporary support in tolerating separation from you.
Talk to your child’s teacher and consider seeking additional professional help from a child psychologist if:
• separation anxiety is severe and significantly interferes with the child’s and your life, as a parent.
• severity of the anxiety is inappropriate for the child’s developmental level.
• separation anxiety has persisted for at least four weeks.
• your child fears that some harm or tragedy will occur to those they love leading to loss or long term separation.