Separation anxiety is a normal part of children’s development in the first months and years. This can be a difficult period for the child and the parent, but it is important to remind yourself that this is normal, it will pass and is a positive part of the child’s development. This means that you have formed a strong bond with your child and that it feels safe and calm in your presence.
Children can experience separation anxiety at any age, but the most common ages are 9, 12, 18, and 24 months. It can also occur during major changes, e.g. when the child starts kindergarten, you return to work, if the child has a younger sibling, moves, etc.
Separation anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, but usually it includes the child becoming more dependent on you, getting hurt if you leave their sight, choosing one parent over the other, crying when you leave them with a family member or at daycare, protesting at bedtime or calls for you at night.
It is perfectly normal for your child to go through such periods, our role as a parent is to give the child love and security, help them adjust to change and help them understand that we will always come back if we have to leave them for a while
How can I help my child through a period of separation anxiety?
There are many things we can do to support the child through these feelings and to create security.
Calmness: If the child is very upset during the day, it is normal for you to experience more irritation and discomfort. If you manage to hold to positive emotions, show calmness and positivity, it helps the child to feel the same. It then senses that everything is fine and that there is no need to worry.
Routine: A predictable routine during the day and then a calming routine before bedtime helps the child feel safe and calm.
Always say bye and good night: It may seem easier to sneak away if the child is quiet when you must leave, to prevent the child from getting upset. But we want the child to know that you are leaving, so that it learns that you will come back and learns that it doesn’t have to worry that you suddenly disappear, you will let it know. So, you say goodbye when you must go and good night when the child is going to sleep, keep the process clear and short.
Comfort the child: You offer comfort to the child when it needs it, it may need more comfort during the day or night. Let the child know that it is safe and that you will always come back. If you have taught the child to sleep well in its own bed, you can do this without taking a step backwards. The child hasn’t forgotten what it has learned, although it needs more support. Providing support does not mean rocking the child to sleep or in the way it was used to. You are simply letting the child know that you are there and it is loved, while supporting it in falling asleep without assistance. It could be that the child just needs your presence. Be clear and firm.
Explain: Although your child hasn’t started to speak yet, it can understand a great deal. Explain to the child if you must leave that you will be back after a certain time, it can also help to plan what you are going to do when you get back. It doesn’t have to be anything big, even just reading one book. It helps the child to visualize you coming back. At bedtime, you can explain that you are always close to the child while it sleeps.
Spend time with the child: Give the child access to one-on-one time during the day. It doesn’t have to be a long time; 10-20 minutes of play is enough. Let the child control the game, be 100% present and give the child your full attention.
Patience: It may take time for the child to get through this period. Stick to the routine and the boundaries while showing positivity and support.
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