Dealing With Separation Anxiety

Does your little one cry or cling to you or both as you’re leaving the room or heading out the door? Your toddler may be experiencing separation anxiety. At this age, your child doesn’t have a strong sense of time, so he doesn’t know when you’ll return. Learn how to identify signs of toddler separation anxiety in order to soothe away the tears.

For some toddlers, goodbyes are full of tears, screams, and outbursts. Young children form tight relationships with their parents, so it’s natural that as a child grows, she’ll be hesitant to let go of feelings of familiarity and security. Learn more about separation anxiety to ease your little one.

Why Do Toddlers Experience Separation Anxiety?

seperation anxiety 

Children go through feelings of separation anxiety for different reasons, but on a basic level, they believe their survival is dependent on having a primary caregiver close by. Toddlers are also still too young to understand the concept of time. Leaving them in a room for a few minutes or with a babysitter or at day care for a few hours feels like the same amount of time for them. So instead of sneaking off, which a toddler can interpret as leaving forever, be sure to say adieu, but keep the parting simple and short. Try to convey that the time apart is temporary and is not a cause for alarm. Also, “somewhat ironically, anxiety can be a sign of the child’s increasing autonomy,” says Miranda Goodman-Wilson, assistant professor of psychology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. “They have their own opinion on the situation — that Mom shouldn’t leave — and want to exert control.”

What Are the Signs of Separation Anxiety?

Erin Boyd-Soisson, Ph.D., associate professor of human development at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania says separation anxiety is “typically most prevalent between 8 and 18 months or so.” Indications of separation anxiety are usually present while a caregiver is departing or has left. Children may cling, throw a tantrum, or resist other caregivers in an attempt to convince the parent not to leave, whether for work or to run an errand. A child can also show signs of fear and restlessness when a parent is in another room, when he’s left alone at bedtime, or is being dropped off at day care. The outbursts usually subside once the caregiver is out of view. “This anxiety serves to keep the child close to the caregiver, who is their source of love and safety,” Dr. Boyd-Soisson says.


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