Toddlers and Separation Anxiety

When your child is an infant, he may have no problem with going to the babysitter. Babies usually adapt to new caregivers well as long as their needs are being attended to. So it often comes as a shock when you go to drop your 1 year old off at his long-time sitter, and he starts screaming.

This is not an uncommon scenario. At some point between 8 months and 2 1/2 years of age, most children experience separation anxiety to some degree. Understanding the underlying causes can help you cope with separation anxiety and help your child overcome it.

What Causes Separation Anxiety?

At around 6 months, your baby will begin to realize that objects do not disappear when they are out of sight. This is a major discovery for him. But it also brings forth worries that things that go away might not come back. And those things include his parents.

So when you drop your child off with his caregiver, he may get very upset even if he has been going to the same caregiver for some time without incident. Some parents panic and see this as cause for alarm. But if there are no other indications of problems, it is probably a case of separation anxiety.

How to Cope

If possible, avoid taking your child to a new childcare provider when he is between 8 months and 1 year old. This is when separation anxiety usually begins to appear. Although it will likely show itself even with familiar caregivers, switching to a new one at this sensitive time could make things much worse.

Telling your child when you will be back in terms that he can understand may help to alleviate his fears. He probably can’t tell time yet, so he’ll need something other than a number of hours. Telling him you’ll be back after lunch or naptime gives him a familiar event to go by. Sticking to your word and being back exactly when you said you would lets him know that he can count on what you tell him.

Some parents try to sneak off when the child is not looking, but that usually makes things worse. Even if your child is crying, telling him goodbye and meaning it is the best approach. Once you’ve left, it’s not a good idea to come back to check on him. A phone call 15-20 minutes later can ease your fears while avoiding a second meltdown.

Separation anxiety affects most toddlers at some point. It is just part of growing up. Remaining calm, saying goodbye, and leaving when the time comes will help your child adjust. Setting a time to be back and sticking to it will alleviate his fears and build confidence.

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