Handling Separation Anxiety in Your Child

Written by: Aoife Lyons


As children experience new activities and places, parents may notice an increase in their child’s anxiety or difficulty separating from a parent. Separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s emotional development that helps a child distinguish between safe and non-safe environments. Peak times for separation anxiety are around eight to 10 months and again at 18 months.

Here are some tips to help ease times of transition:

1. As children learn to identify and manage their emotions, they take their cues from important adults around them. If you seem anxious or worried, your child will also feel anxious and unsafe. If you are confident, you are conveying your confidence in your child to handle a new situation.

2. Explain in “kid terms” what is going to happen at the new activity—for example, circle time, swimming, snack, pick-up. Be prompt about pick-up times.

3. While children need to be prepared for new activities, don’t “over-explain” what is going to happen. Too much information can lead to a child feeling anxious that the new activity is a “big deal.” Again, a child may sense your anxiety over a transition, which could lead to them feeling anxious.

4. Develop a special goodbye routine, such as “two kisses and one hug", and use this during all times of transition. Stick to your routine and let your child know when you will be back in “kid terms.” For example, not that you will be back in 45 minutes, but that you will be back after play time or snack time.

5. Tell the teacher or instructor what your special goodbye routine will be. This way the teacher will know the appropriate time to invite your child to join the group.

6. Consistency with routines helps a child learn that he/she is safe, protected and loved. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Think of how you may feel when you don’t know what to expect (for example, a flight being delayed or canceled, getting a flat tire, losing your cell phone—all unpredictable and anxiety-provoking for us grown-ups!).

Keeping to your basic routines around goodbyes will help your children enjoy new adventures!

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Posted on August 18, 2011 at 1:09 PM