What is separation anxiety?
Signs and symptoms of separation anxiety / Help your child with separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is when a child becomes upset when separated from their parents or carer, such as when left with a baby sitter. It reflects the child’s attempt to hold on to what is safe to them in a world that is still unknown and scary to them. It occurs because infants and small children get attached to their parents (or main caregiver) and they start to worry about being away from their caregiver and whether this caregiver will come back.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development that generally starts around six to eight months and can last until children are 4 years old, but generally decreases when children are 2.5 years of age as the child gets older and becomes more secure being with other people. The child develops this sense of security by learning that the parent always comes back.
Although not related to the normal developmental stage, some older children develop separation anxiety disorder when they are older, around 7.
It can be helpful to read other people’s experiences with separation anxiety:
Signs and symptoms of separation anxiety
Crying, being upset or even running after or clinging on to the parent are all signs of separation anxiety. Some children will even vomit. Around six to eight months, some young children will experience separation anxiety at bedtime. This nighttime separation anxiety will often get worse until the child is 15-18 months old and then this will start to ease.
Some children also get upset at the parent when they return. This is because the child remembers that they were left and relives the sensation of being left. Although this may seem manipulative, it is also a normal part of child development. Also, some children who were previously fine with separations will redevelop symptoms of separation anxiety following a time being at home with a parent (e.g. mother is on maternity leave with a second child). This is also a normal part of the child’s development.
Helping your child with separation anxiety
Generally, separation anxiety does not require treatment. Rather, managing early separations well helps the child more quickly develop their ability to deal with longer separations.
Always make sure your child feels safe and well looked after
Try to leave the child with someone they know
Always say goodbye, even if you have to leave while they are upset as this builds trust
Be reliable and always come back when you say you are going to
Have practice separations such as hide and seek to help them learn that you will come back
Let the child keep toys or other things that they use as a comforter
Give the child something of yours they can keep whilst you are away
Be confident in your decision to go. Do not oscillate about your decision to go. Do not look distressed to the child when leaving. Smile and be as positive as you can.
Helping yourself deal with the effects of separation anxiety
Often parents, particularly mothers feel an extreme sense of guilt due to the crying and clinging of their child when they try to leave. In some, this will make them re-evaluate their decision to leave their child with someone else and they may become hesitant or even stop doing so. This can lead to isolation or not doing things they want to, such as returning to work. If you find that you are having difficulties with managing your own feelings about the separation anxiety, you may need to speak to someone.
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Click on the links below to find out more information on child behaviour and development:
The Helpful Guide