How To Manage Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can be very stressful for your child. It can also be very stressful and frustrating for you as parent.

Bear in mind that it is a totally normal stage of your child’s emotional development. It’s very common and forms part of many people’s parenting journey.

Separation anxiety and fear of strangers often happens between about six months and three years old. Remember that your child will grow out of this.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety starts as your child begins to understand that things still exist even when they’re not actually present. This concept is called object permanence.

As your child develops, they learn that they are dependent on the ‘safe’ people who provide them with care. With an increasing awareness of their surroundings, it can be scary and unsettling if the ‘safe’, constant people are not there.

Separation anxiety can make your baby or toddler clingy and reluctant to be left by their caregiver, even for a short time. They may cry or become hysterical and refuse to let go of you.

Be aware that some degree of separation anxiety is perfectly normal. However, if it persists as your child grows older, starts to interfere with normal activities like school and friendships, and lasts for months rather than days, then it may be a sign of a bigger problem: separation anxiety disorder. That’s why it is useful to be armed with some strategies to stop this from taking hold.

What can you do if your child has separation anxiety?

Your child will learn to realise that if you leave them, you will come back! By leaving them you are actually helping them to develop an understanding that they can cope without you.

This is an important part of their journey to become independent.

Here are some of our top tips to help you manage separation anxiety – for you and your child!

  • Try short separations at first – leave your baby or toddler with a caregiver who is familiar to them. Take time to let your child settle in and see you positively interacting with the caregiver before you leave. Pop out for a quick errand (up to an hour). You can progress from this to longer breaks and less familiar settings as your child learns to adapt. The more you practise, the easier it gets.
  • Talk to your child – explain what you will do together when you get back so they have a positive feeling of something to look forward to on your return. This could be anything – eat tea, feed the ducks, go to the shopping. The point is you are signposting what you will next do when you are together again.
  • Make sure they have a familiar object – a favourite teddy or blanket can be hugely reassuring for your child when you’re not there.
  • Always say goodbye – this is key! Running away without saying goodbye will make your child more upset, as they’ll think you’ve just disappeared. Explain how long you’re going for and that you’ll be back soon. But do not make it long and drawn out. Perhaps you could develop a particular friendly wave just for them, or an extra special goodbye kiss.
  • Be positive – your child is really tuned in to your feelings, so if you keep a positive, happy disposition, this will help dispel your child’s concerns about your absence. If you seem anxious because they are crying and upset, it will make it more difficult for you both.

We hope our tips will help ease separation anxiety for you and your child. Let us know if you have any top tips!

Remember separation anxiety is a normal and healthy part of development. Learning to cope on their own is good practice for building your child’s resilience.