You’ve probably seen a baby cry when it’s mom hands it off to someone else. Actually, it’s fairly normal for babies and toddlers to be scared to be away from someone to which they have a strong emotional attachment. In fact, it’s part of their development process. Usually the baby will calm down after a while, and eventually it will grow out of the anxiety altogether.
But what if the separation is a lot more severe and lasts longer than expected? It could be approaching what is called Separation Anxiety Disorder.
What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?
This is a condition where the person has a high amount of anxiety when they are separated from certain people or even when leaving home. Symptoms of fear and anxiety can even start before the separation actually happens, then of course when the hand off takes place, and even for a long time after that.
If you suspect that your child has Separation Anxiety Disorder, talk to your child’s pediatrician. They will likely go through a checklist with you that includes how often the anxiety manifests, in which situations it manifests, how long the child shows distress after you are no longer present, and more. If you have an older child with Separation Anxiety Disorder, they could also be experiencing tummy aches, nightmares, and other physical symptoms that could be associated with the disorder.
If your child has issues with being separated from you, there are many things you can do to help lessen your child’s symptoms. Of course, always talk to their pediatrician to ensure it is appropriate for your particular child.
Here are 5 tips to help deal with separation anxiety:
1. Go Into Practice Mode
Sometimes when your child can’t handle separation, you tend to not leave their sight. It’s just easier that way. But not allowing any separation can be counter-intuitive. It’s important to practice separation so your child can get used to it and learn that everything will be ok without you. Start leaving your child with someone they trust, like a grandparent or other trusted adult, for a very short time—even just a few minutes. Eventually work the time up you spend away little by little. As your child has little successes, their anxiety will lessen. Make this a regular thing and keep practicing.
2. Get Your Child Comfortable Before Leaving
Especially if you use a babysitter or other child care, your child needs to get to know the person you will be leaving them with. So before you leave your child with someone, set aside some time for you and your child to sit down with them. Help your child feel comfortable around them and warm up to them. Interact with the person, and then have the person interact with your child. If your child can feel comfortable with them while you are there, then there is a greater chance of them being ok with that person after you leave. This method is a good way to ease into the separation.
3. Try Not to Make Goodbyes a Big Deal
The manner in which you say goodbye can have a big impact on your child. If you make goodbyes a big production, it actually brings too much attention to the point of separation, and the anxiety will just build even more. It’s more effective to be casual and have an attitude that everything is fine, you’ll be back soon, and they’ll have fun without you. Your approach to this can have a big impact on how your child perceives the goodbye. The calmer you are, the better. Children often reflect the emotions of their parents, especially in new situations that worry them. It may be hard to stay calm when your child is crying or upset, but tell yourself this is just temporary.
4. Talk to Them About the Separation
Even if your child doesn’t understand everything you say quite yet, you can still sit down with them and talk about the separation. Explain how it’s ok that you are apart—you still love each other and can feel the other person in your heart. Talk about their specific fears; really listen and try to address them. Also talk about what they should do when they feel those fears.
5. Plan Something Fun for Them to Do During Your Separation
What does your child like to do? What would be a fun activity for them to do while you are away? Plan it together and let them know it’s something special you get to do with the babysitter or other person who will be watching them. Talk about how much fun it will be, and how they can tell you all about it when you get home. Hopefully this can help them look forward to the time rather than dread it.