Children who become anxious being away from their parents or other important caregivers may be experiencing separation anxiety. These children often worry about their own safety or the safety of their parents when they are separated from them.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s development that tends to be most intense during early toddlerhood and then gradually decline over time as children become more capable and start to explore their environment.
Children often experience separation anxiety when they first start to attend day care or prep, but usually adjust well and feel fine with a bit of time. Some children, however, may remain distressed whenever separated from their parents; may start to throw tantrums or refuse to go to school; or may complain of feeling sick when a separation is coming.
If this sounds familiar, here are a number of things you can do to help your child to overcome separation anxiety.
- Maintain a calm, relaxed demeanor when separating from your child or discussing an upcoming separation. When parents seem worried or spend too much time soothing their child, this can communicate to the child that there is something to worry about.
- Keep your child informed about upcoming separation, including how long it will last, what you will be doing, and what your child will be doing. Having this information can help a child to feel less anxious.
- Talk to your child about ways he or she can cope while separated. For some children, being able to call you if distressed helps them to feel calmer. For younger children, having a familiar toy can be soothing.
- Never criticise your child for being anxious. This can undermine your child’s self-esteem, increase anxiety, and is not likely to be effective. It is helpful, however, to praise your child when he or she copes well or separates willingly.
- Start small. If your child is anxious about separation, start with very brief separations and gradually increase the length of time for which you and your child are separated. Only increase this time when your child is coping well.