Dropping my toddler off at daycare can swing from “good days,” when she runs off to join the other kids playing with toy dinosaurs, barely giving us a backward glance, to other days when she’s stuck to her father’s leg like a barnacle. Just like my daughter, many children go through periods of upset when it is time to leave a parent or caregiver. And it’s certainly not easy on the parents, either.
Separation anxiety can start in children as young as four to five months old, soon after they start gaining an understanding of object permanence, and it peaks when they’re toddlers. Most children will outgrow daily separation anxiety around age 2, but some older children can still retain some feelings of it. What’s the best way to help children of all ages understand and manage separation anxiety?
Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests making a goodbye ritual, and keeping it short and consistent. The longer you linger saying goodbye to your children or the more you change it up from day to day, the more anxious your child is likely to become. Give your child your full attention when you’re leaving and practice being apart, before it becomes a regular part of your routine.
Looking for a book to help? The Kissing Hand shares the worries of a young raccoon heading to school for the first time and the little ritual his mother creates to keep them connected when they are apart. It’s a staple for many parents and in many classrooms.
School-Aged Children and Young Adults
Separation anxiety peaks in toddlers, and often goes away in children after the age of two. Although, if your older child is still showing signs of separation anxiety as summer break comes to a close, similar rituals that you used when they were toddlers will likely still do the trick. Practice going back to school, drive past the playground, find some of your child’s friends and get you and your child into a predictable routine. All of these will help ease your child’s anxiety about going back to school.
Some older children and even young adults can have severe separation anxiety. Older children with persistent, severe separation anxiety may need to be examined by their doctor to determine if they have separation anxiety disorder. This type of severe separation anxiety is rare in children, affecting about 4-5% of older children and only 1.3% of teenagers in the U.S. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have concerns about their separation anxiety.
TapGenes TakeAway: Separation anxiety peaks in toddlerhood but can last for years. Having a quick, consistent good-bye routine can help your child (and you) cope.
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