When starting school for the first time, it common for children to experience separation anxiety. When some children say goodbye to their parents, it can cause extreme stress, leading to crying, screaming, and clingy behavior. Separation anxiety is a natural part of growing up. After all, when you are very young, you do not yet have a sense of time, and your parents are the people who are responsible for your protection. Their parents may be back in just a few hours, but it is difficult for young children to conceptualize this time, and the security and familiarity of their parents is difficult to let go of when they don’t truly understand how long it will be until they return. It’s natural for a child to feel anxious about being separated from their parents because they rely on them for survival. From a psychological/biological perspective, separation anxiety serves to keep a parent close, and therefore, ensures a child survives.
With all this in mind, you can see that separation anxiety is completely understandable and natural response. However, this doesn’t mean that separation anxiety isn’t distressing to both parent and child. Fortunately, with a lot of empathy and some education, you can recognize the signs of separation anxiety and respond in an appropriate way.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
It is most common for ages eight months to two years to experience separation anxiety, but older children can be affected as well, particularly if they have never been to daycare before. You can look for signs of separation anxiety as the caregiver is leaving, or after they have already left. A child experiencing separation anxiety will cling to their parents, scream, and cry and will do whatever they can to prevent their parents from leaving. They may also be visibly fearful or anxious when their parent leaves, whether dropping them off at daycare or leaving the room. It is typical for symptoms of separation anxiety to dissipate after the parent has left.
Outgrowing Separation Anxiety
Most of the time, as your young child begins to grow used to the routine of going to preschool, playing for a few hours, and then you picking them up at the end of the day, separation anxiety wanes. However, this doesn’t mean that separation anxiety is gone for good. Children often begin to backslide into separation anxiety symptoms when they feel particularly stressed (such as during a time of change, like a move) or they fall ill. Even if you thought your preschooler was over separation anxiety, then begins to show signs of it again, that is still normal and will go away with time. Every child is different and will learn to overcome separation anxiety on their own time, so have patience.
How to Ease Separation Anxiety
Though separation anxiety is totally normal from a child development perspective, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause stress for you and your child. Try to focus on the positive. Separation anxiety is an indication that your child has a healthy attachment to you, so while you may hate hearing them cry, keeping it in perspective can help you cope.
To help ease your child’s separation anxiety, make sure to stick to a regular routine as much as you can. This ensures that your child learns more quickly that you will always return to them at the end of the day, easing their distress. Additionally, don’t just run out the door or act frustrated in the face of separation anxiety; have a little empathy for your child. Hug them, tell them you love them, and let them know you will be back at the end of the day. It could help to give them a picture of you or the family, and make sure that they have their favorite stuffed animal for comfort. Small gestures like this mean more to your child than you know, so take the time to be sensitive to your child’s feelings, and they will have an easier time with separation anxiety.
At our daycare in Glastonbury, we understand separation anxiety, and will do everything we can to help you and your child through this time. Contact Foundations for Learning here today!