Separation Anxiety and Development

You go to drop your child off at daycare, and the tears begin. Your child clings to you, cries, and begs you not to leave. Although it is heart wrenching to see in your child, separation anxiety is a normal part of development.

Kids usually start to experience separation anxiety as early as 6 months, and may continue as far as preschool. Although separation anxiety typically wains as a child grows older, it usually happens gradually. In the meantime, here’s how you can help your child.

Even if your child is very small, explain to them where you are going and when you will be back. At this stage in development, they may be worried you won’t come back at all. When they understand that you are leaving for work and will be back afterwards, it may help ease some of their worries.
Although it may be hard for you to deal with the drama, leaving without saying goodbye can cause separation anxiety to get even worse. Do your best to let them know you are leaving and say goodbye each time.

Another helpful tip is to help settle the child into a favorite activity before leaving, so they have something positive to do when you depart.

Let Them Bring an Object
If they’re going to a new place, bringing a familiar object from home may help with the transition. This might be something like a favorite teddy or a comfort blanket. It’s also helpful to spend time with your child at any new location you are leaving them before leaving them in the new location.

Stay Calm
It’s easy to get worked up when you see your child is upset. Unfortunately, this can also make your child feel more upset. Try to keep a smile on your face when you leave, and keep yourself as calm as possible. Separation anxiety can cause quite a bit of drama, but if you can remain calm yourself your child will likely calm down sooner.

Separation Anxiety in Older Children
Separation anxiety is a normal part of development, but it can stray into a disorder. If your child is older and still experiences separation anxiety, it may be a sign that they have Separation Anxiety Disorder. Other signs include:
• Refusing to go to school
• Obsessing about harm coming to a family member
• Anxiety going on for more than 4 weeks
• Refusing to sleep alone
• Being excessively clingy even at home

If you notice any of these symptoms, you may want to bring them up with your child’s pediatrician. While it’s possible these may be situational rather than a disorder, your pediatrician will be the best one to help address the problem.

For young children, separation anxiety is a normal part of development. Your child will likely grow out of it as they get older, but in the mean time you can help grow their confidence with these tips. By remaining calm, letting them bring a comfort object from home, and letting them know when you are leaving and where you are going, you can help ease the transition.