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Separation anxiety is a sign of emotional growth for a baby. It is a feeling that begins when babies start to grasp the fact that people and things exist, even when they are not present in front of their eyes. This phenomenon is known as “object permanence.”

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At some stage, most toddlers will show a feeling of intense anxiety and get upset at the thought of possible separation from their protectors who cares for them. As per evolutionary theory, separation anxiety in toddlers is due to the fact that they feel defenseless without their caregivers.

Cultural atmosphere also has a role to play in the attitude of babies about separation. In western countries, they tend to provide autonomy from a very young age. But in most of other countries, infants are seldom separated from their parents, in first year of their life.

Irrespective of the sources of this developmental stage, separation is cruel, both for babies and parents. However in due course of time the separation anxiety in toddlers can be managed.

Is separation anxiety in toddlers common?

Babies can start showing symptoms of separation anxiety by the time they are 6 or 7 months old. But the peak crisis period of anxiety is between 10 to 18 months. Separation anxiety in toddlers can also strike when any of the parents leave the child to go to work or otherwise. Separation anxiety starts getting tends to fade away by the age of two years

How to ease separation anxiety in toddlers?

To ease the separation anxiety, one can minimize the separation period or can carry the baby along. If one is to leave the baby, for attending office, he/she should ensure to leave the child with people familiar to the baby, such as grandparents, aunts, etc. One should let the baby get to know about the new caregiver, while she/he is still around before leaving the child.

How should a baby be prepared for separation?

Before leaving the baby with any family member or a childcare provider, let the baby get all the possible opportunities of separation and thus familiarize itself with the idea. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Practice separation at home. It will be appropriate if the baby happens to initiate the separation. Allow the baby to crawl to another room on its own, where it is expected to be safe without supervision for a brief period and wait for few minutes to pickup.
  • One can tell to her/ his baby that he is leaving the room and will come back soon. It can create confidence in baby’s mind, with the learning that a few minutes of absence does not make a difference; that the mother will always  be back after a few minutes; and that everything will be alright when the mother is out.
  • In due course of time the baby will be comfortable even in her/his mother’s absence. The new baby sitter must visit and play with the baby several times and make acquaintance with the baby. Doing this will prevent separation anxiety in toddlers when you leave the baby alone with the babysitter. Also, when you leave the baby for the first time with the sitter, he/she should arrive at least half an hour before your departure.
  • Follow the same approach at the nursery, daycare centers or health club.
  • Always follow the habit of saying goodbye after kissing and hugging the baby. Inform the toddler about the place you are visiting and the time of your return. The goodbyes should not be prolonged. Avoid being upset when the baby starts crying when you leave, as it will increase separation anxiety in the toddler. Avoid sneaking out through backdoor as the baby may feel that you have vanished into thin air. Once you leave, abstain from repeated trips back to the home or daycare center as it may become harder to calm down the baby, making the separation difficult for you and the caretaker.
  • As a trial, the period of absence should be shorter in the first instance. Once the baby and the mother become familiar with the sitter, then the period of absence can be extended.

Dealing with nighttime separation anxiety in toddlers

As night separation is real for the baby, one should keep the hours before the bedtime, nurturing and peaceful. Also, indulge in some extra cuddle time with the baby before sleep, by way of singing, reading and snuggling.

If a baby cries from bed, respond immediately to assure the baby. The assurance should be brief. This will enable the toddler to learn to go back to sleep without needing much help from the mother.

Separation anxiety in toddlers, still an issue?

Separation anxiety in toddlers can vary in severity levels from one baby to another, as each one will have a different personality and temperament. In case, your baby continues to experience separation anxiety, then you may need to reevaluate and change the current situation

The sitter or the daycare center may be a mismatch for the baby. This can be seen if the baby becomes anxious and weeps when the mother leaves. So change the sitter and daycare center. Similarly, evaluate each situation and make relevant changes to ease separation anxiety in your child.

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