Separation anxiety

How to Deal with Separation Anxiety

Do you find it emotionally draining to leave your child in a new environment without you? Maybe they scream, cry, and yell when you leave the room, leave them with a grandparent or babysitter while you go to an appointment, or even when you try to go to the bathroom? The issue is often called separation anxiety. It’s pretty common for younger children and can come and go for many reasons. The good news is, there are things you can do to ease your child’s (and your own) anxiety and fears and help them to feel comfortable when you’re not around.

Separation anxiety is a form of anxiety that can be felt by children (and adults) when they are separated from things that are most familiar to them. These anxieties can be triggered by many things including fear of the unknown, past experiences, and so on. This form of anxiety generally goes away with time and reassurance, but will take some participation from you, childcare providers, and anyone else involved regularly in your child’s life. Below are some ideas on how to cut your baby’s fears and help them adapt to new environments whether you’re physically with them or not.

Tips for Reducing Separation Anxiety

  • Don’t become agitated or frustrated with your children – it is a natural feeling that will pass with time and patience.
  • Consider a Practice Run – If you know that your child will be entering a new surrounding soon, start practicing early on so that they know what to expect. For instance, instead of taking them to the grocery store with you, see if a relative will watch them for an hour or so. This is a short amount of time, but gives your child the chance to understand that they’re safe and that mama and daddy will return for them.
  • Take a Tour – if you’re preparing your child for daycare or preschool, the best way to ease some of their fears is to take a tour of the building. Ask the daycare director if it’s alright for you and your child to sit in on a class for a while (preferably the class they’ll be attending in the near future). Allow your child to interact with the teachers/carers and students while you’re around. This will give them some comfort, and the environment won’t seem too foreign once they’re ready to start school.
  • Stay for a Moment – staying for a little while as your child settles in is another way to ease their fears. Maybe you could read a story to the class, help your child take off their coat and put their things away, or even color a picture with them. Once your child begins to engage with the other children, this would be your cue to leave. You can gradually cut the amount of time that you stay in the morning until they’re alright with leaving your side.  This works well for learning to love time with grandparents, a nanny, or mother’s helper, too.
  • Have a Good-bye Ritual – Sneaking out may heighten your child’s fears and anxieties. Instead, come up with a ritual in which you will say good-bye to them on the daily basis. For instance, you might say you’re getting ready to leave, give them a big hug and kiss, let them know you’ll be back very soon, and then leave.  I’ve found that for a “once in a while” thing (like a date night once a month), it can be better to slip away quietly while your tot is playing with their carer – but this depends a lot on the child, so judge for your family!
  • Don’t Come Back – This might be hard in the beginning, especially if your little one happens to be one to cry often. However, going back to try and console them more sends the wrong message. Baby then believes that crying will bring mommy or daddy back to them, which prolongs the anxious behaviors. Once you’ve said your good-byes, trust that your little one will be alright and head out the door.   If the anxiety about a situation doesn’t seem to be lessening after a few days, it’s good to re-evaluate the situation to see if it’s the right fit for your child.
  • Give Them Something Familiar – when you’re in a strange environment, having anything that reminds you of home or the people you love can make settling in a lot easier. If your child is having a hard time adjusting, you can always ask the teacher if it’s okay to give them a little something to remember you (or familiar surroundings) by. This could be something like a teddy bear, a picture of the family, or even a security blanket.

Time Heals All

The ultimate fix for separation anxiety is time. With time, your little one comes to understand that mama and daddy return, and that the place they’re going is a lot of fun after all. Time and reassurance will ultimately ease fears and anxieties.  Always take time to re-connect with your little one when you’re together again – but don’t feel guilty about taking a little time for yourself, your marriage, or if you need to have someone care for your child while you work.

Pay Attention

Sometimes what you think is nothing more than separation anxiety could be another issue. If time has passed and your child continues to scream and cry when you leave, there could be something more to it. Pay attention to whether they are fearful when near certain teachers or children as something could be happening that you need to discuss.  A different care arrangement might be needed – always listen to your instincts, even if other people are telling you you’re over-reacting, or criticizing your choices about staying home with your child, homeschooling, choosing a different daycare or school, etc.  Listen to your heart 🙂

This is one of the most emotional experiences you will have with your children while they’re young. A little one crying and calling your name as you leave can certainly pull at your heart-strings a bit. However, usually, it will pass and is nothing more than your child being fearful of a new person or environment. Preparation and patience need to be practiced to help your children overcome their fears. With time and acceptance, your child will begin to open up more and feel comfortable in new environments.