Most parents have dealt with their kids' separation anxiety at some point or another. It can be very common when a child enters daycare or starts school. It can even happen when you drop your little off at a play date or with a caregiver or loved one. Saying goodbye can make kids feel very anxious, but separation anxiety is a very normal and healthy part of a child development. Some kids may cry, throw tantrums, or become very clingy when it's time to say goodbye to their mom or dad.
But some children experience anxiety that doesn't improve or go away as they get older, and may start to impede your lives. This is called separation anxiety disorder, and there may come a time when professional help for your child is your best course of action.
We know how hard it can be to deal with your child's separation anxiety. But there some steps you can take to make the process of leaving easier, and help ease their worries.
For children with normal separation anxiety, it can help to practice separation. For example, leave your little one with a caregiver or loved one for short periods of time. As their anxiety lessens, extend the time you're away in increments. Try to schedule time away from your kids after naps or feedings, when they're full and rested. Don't drag out your goodbyes (this one is hard, we know!). It's best to develop a quick goodbye ritual, and not to make your leaving a bigger deal than it is.
This one is REALLY important: keep your promises! In order for your child to develop confidence, you need to return at the time you said you'd return.
You can help your child with their separation anxiety disorder. Be respectful of their feelings, and listen to their concerns. Encourage your child to talk about issues that are bothering them. It helps to anticipate separation, and make those transitions as easy as possible. And always praise your child's efforts!
However, there may come a time when you need to seek professional intervention to help your child with their separation anxiety disorder. If your child is exhibiting extreme symptoms that don't get better over time or get worse despite your efforts, such as withdrawal from friends and family, refusal to go to school for days or weeks, or an excessive fear of leaving the house, it may be time to find a mental health specialist to help your child deal with their disorder.
If the separation anxiety disorder is the result of a childhood trauma, make sure to consult with a child trauma specialist to get your child the help they need.