Nothing is more natural than for toddlers, pre-school and younger primary children, to feel anxious when they have to leave their parent or parents and particularly in unfamiliar surroundings.
This is usually short-lived and minor. There are some good things you can do to help reduce it too.
Calming separation anxiety in young children
Typically, children don’t usually experience this in their own homes.
Of course, babies don’t like being left alone in a room if they want company. They’ll soon let you know if that’s the case – particularly if they suddenly feel lonely and in need of reassurance in the middle of the night.
However, most toddler-age kids are fairly comfortable around their familiar home.
They may yell out for Mummy or Daddy if they’re suddenly scared by something or get hurt but generally, separation anxiety is a phenomenon associated with the child being left with a third-party care provider or day-care centre. However, it can also happen if they’re at home and left in the care of someone they don’t know.
What is separation anxiety?
Many animals have a strong sense of bonding with a parent or perhaps wider family group that they know they can trust.
This is about the survival instinct. The places and care providers they know constitutesafety. Strangers and unfamiliar surroundings constitute risk.
Children feel comfortable with people they know and much less so with others – until they get to know them.
So, try not to criticise children or accuse them of being silly for suffering separation anxiety. They’re just demonstrating millions of years of evolution!
Incidentally, many parents also suffer it when leaving their children elsewhere for the first few times. That can even apply when taking older kids to university– it never entirely goes away for parents.
When is it a problem?
Calming separation anxiety in your child is usually something that takes a very short period of time. It happens spontaneously, albeit aided by some sensible practices from the parents and care providers, such as day-care centres.
In some cases, the child is perfectly fine after day-1 though in others some anxiety when Mum or Dad departs can linger for a few days.
It’s very rare but sometimes it can be more severe, with children panicking and refusing to be parted from Mum or Dad on an ongoing basis. Some may struggle to settle easily into the care of another person or environment and that can carry on, in a very few cases, well into primary school ages.
How to calm separation anxiety in your child
Here are a few tips we at Byford Child Care have found very useful over time:
- get your child used to spending time in the care of others and away from Mum and Dad, with people they are already familiar with. Aunties/uncles and other relatives are great – something that was once very common but is now much less so. Neighbours are also a possibility but do be sure they’re entirely trustworthy and preferably with children of their own of a similar age. Start with short breaks of say 30 minutes and build up;
- explain to your child well in advance what’s happening – if they’re at an age to understand;
- in the case of a day-care centre, make a few familiarisation visits in advance. Stay with your child the first few times, then leave them alone for a short period and build up. Try to avoid your child being left alone with strangers in a strange location without this familiarisation;
- children that really enjoy their surroundings and are fully occupied are much less likely to suffer major separation anxiety. Only choose a care provider or day-care centre that you know will keep your children active and engaged for the whole time they’re in their care.
More significant problems
As mentioned above, in a tiny percentage of children, separation anxiety can be a severe problem. That might manifest itself in many different ways.
As the causes may vary, it isn’t possible to talk about definite actions. That can only be established in conjunction with a child development specialist.
Please be assured that we would always recognise immediately and bring to your attention, any situation where your child did not appear to be overcoming that initial, short-lived and perfectly natural separation anxiety.