Separation anxiety in young children

Separation anxiety is a natural stage in the development of any child, it can affect your little one in varying degrees and is often most noticeable in toddlers of around 18 months. Some children barely bat an eyelid as they skip off through the doors of the early learning centre, or into the arms of a relative or sitter. While others can experience separation anxiety so severe that it is classed as a serious disorder.

Unfamiliar faces

Most common between the ages of 7-10 months, this is sometimes referred to as stranger anxiety and is a form of separation anxiety. Although you may completely trust the person or service who will be taking care of your child, they are still relatively unfamiliar compared to the constant bond that has been formed between you and your youngster. Little ones learn to trust their permanent guardian first and foremost, and it can take time for them to adjust to being cared for by others.

Mummy where are you?

Separation anxiety does not only occur when you are leaving your child in someone else’s care, it is also extremely common when you go out of your child’s sight or when you leave them at bedtime. There are many help sites and articles to help with bedtime routines and they usually work on tackling much of that sleep separation anxiety. However, it’s also very useful to have some tips and tricks to help you if you’re beginning to dread leaving your child, even for short periods of time.

Tips and tricks to help with general separation anxiety:

  • Distract your child with an activity they enjoy before you need to go.
  • Long goodbyes can make it worse for both of you – Keep it short.
  • Don’t sneak out on your child, this can just cause trust issues. Instead, explain where you are going and why, and tell them when you expect to be back.
  • Let your child take a comforter along with them, a favourite toy perhaps.
  • If your child will be going to a new place like a childcare centre or a friend/sitter’s house then try to visit and familiarise them with the setting first, if you can.
  • Although it’s hard, try not to show your own worries or anxieties about leaving your child. Even when they become upset, remain calm and steadfast.
  • Practise short separation when you can and always make positive associations. Never make negative comments if they react badly.
  • Play with toys and make short stories about separation. You can even tell them to leave Teddy with Mr Dinosaur while you play a game nearby. All of these activities foster a better understanding in your child.

Separation anxiety disorder

If your child’s separation anxiety is severe enough to interfere with everyday family life, or if it is having a negative impact on your child’s development, then it may have become a more serious disorder. In this case, contact your GP or local health centre. There are many services available to offer help and support for you and your child.

Tell your centre

Your early learning or childcare centre will be happy to keep an eye on your child’s anxiety levels and can offer support to you and your child to work through times of adjustment or difficult phases. Always talk to your centre supervisor.