Dealing with early childhood separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is often played down as a tantrum. Believe me when I say this – it is not. Separation anxiety is real for children. Throwing a tantrum is just a coping mechanism for kids to deal with this anxiety.
How do I know this if I’m not a child psychologist? You see as a child, I experienced separation anxiety. There are some things of my childhood I can remember very clearly and other things I don’t. Separation anxiety stands out like a sore thumb and I remember it very clearly.
I was about 4 or 5 years old when I went through this stage. As a child I was very attached to my mother and would panic every time I didn’t see her. Terrified that she left me behind or forgot about me caused me to have a meltdown.
This was to my mother’s annoyance of course. She didn’t put on a happy face and talk to me in a calm voice. I would get a scolding and sometimes spanking. My mother felt no guilt when I experienced separation anxiety. Not forgetting how I would be teased by family members when it happened. Born in the 70’s, parenting was so, so different to now. It was about fitting in with your parent’s lifestyle not the other way around. We had to toughen up. There was no label put on every single problem a child faced or a child psychologist making a diagnosis. You had to get over it and move on.
This is how my mother coped and dealt with my early childhood separation anxiety.
Was it the right approach?
Perhaps it was back then but in today’s life her actions would certainly raise eyebrows, it would be classified as illegal and abusive.
Separation anxiety is normal and form part of a child’s development. This is a development stage where your child will be clingy but eventually overcome this and become independent. It can happen at various stages in early childhood.
So how do you deal with early childhood separation anxiety today.
Age and dealing with separation anxiety
6 to 11 months
At this age babies are more aware of their surroundings and can distinguish who their parents are. They become unhappy and feel uncomfortable when someone that is not familiar to them wants to hold them and will often reach out to mom or dad. When they don’t see those who are familiar to them, they tend to cry. This might become an obstacle especially when a working mom needs to return back to work after maternity leave and baby must stay with the nanny or grandparents.
Dealing with it at this age
Introduce and familiarise your baby to caregivers such as grandparents, relatives, friends and the nanny. Leave your baby for short periods time (15 – 20 minutes) alone with the caregivers and to allow them to become familiar. This will allow your baby to adjust to your absence easily. Once you feel comfortable that your baby has settled with the caregiver then you can leave them for longer periods. Never leave when your baby is sleeping. Don’t just sneak off without saying good bye and don’t make a fuss when saying good bye. Remember that babies don’t have any concept of time so give them that assurance that you will be back.
You might not have experienced separation anxiety when your child was a baby but it could peak when your child enters the toddler stage. At this age your child becomes very attached to both or one parent and is aware when you leave them alone. Your toddler will also become aware of his/her environment. Strange and unfamiliar places as well as people could spark separation anxiety. They will become very emotional when you leave them and will often throw a tantrum.
Dealing with it at this age
Do not prolong your good byes by hovering around. If you are leaving your child at daycare or by their grandparents; drop off and go and have a short good bye ritual. Be consistent and don’t deviate from this ritual. At first your toddler will scream and throw a tantrum but will get used to it. At this age, your toddler is not yet aware of time so tell him/her that you will be back after they had a nap or lunch or that you will fetch him/her when it is going home time. Gain your toddler’s trust and follow through on promises. If your child is at daycare do not pitch up after all the other parents collected their toddlers. It is also good to set up play dates with friends at a park or play area so that your toddler can get use to playing with other children.
Your child might never before have experienced separation anxiety and all of a sudden it peaks when they start preschool. Remember the new school environment is unfamiliar to your child. It means new friends, new teacher, new rules and they are taken out of their normal comfort zone. These are all new stresses that your child will be facing. Your child will cry every morning when you drop him/her off at school or will become anxious on a Sunday evening which is a build up for the Monday.
Dealing with it at this age
Give your child the reassurance that all will be ok. Explain to him/her that they will learn new things and have fun at school. Once again do not prolong the good byes and hang around on the school grounds where you are visible to your child. Allow the teacher to step in and just walk away. When it is home time, make sure you are on time to collect your child. Do not let him/her sit and wait for you whilst all the other children have been collected already.
Bottom line, you will most probably feel guilty and emotional about leaving your child. However it is important to remain calm and stand your ground. Overcoming separation anxiety might vary from child to child – some might take longer than others. Just remember this too shall pass.