How to Ease Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety varies WIDELY between children. Some babies become hysterical when mom is out of sight for a very short time, while other children seem to demonstrate ongoing anxiety at separations during infancy, toddler-hood, and preschool.  Here are some facts about separation anxiety and tips to improve the transition from parent to teacher.

  • Infants: Separation anxiety develops after a child gains an understanding of object permanence. Once the infant realizes you're really gone (when you are), it may leave him unsettled. Although some babies display object permanence and separation anxiety as early as 4 to 5 months of age, most develop more robust separation anxiety at around 9 months.
  • Toddlers: Many toddlers skip separation anxiety in infancy and start demonstrating challenges at 15 or 18 months of age. Separations are more difficult when children are hungry, tired, or sick-which is most of the toddler year! As children develop independence during this period, they may become even more aware of separations. Their behaviors at separations will be loud, tearful, and difficult to stop.
  • Preschoolers: By the time children are 3 years of age, most clearly understand the effect their anxiety or pleas at separation have on us. It doesn't mean they aren't stressed, but they certainly are vying for a change. Be consistent; don't return to the room based on a child's plea.

Tip to share with parents to help them survive separation anxiety...

  • Create quick good-bye rituals. Even if they have to do major-league- baseball-style hand movements, give triple kisses at the cubby, or provide a special blanket or toy as they leave, keep the good-bye short and sweet. If parents linger, the transition time does too and so will the anxiety.
  • Be consistent. Try to do the same drop-off with the same ritual at the same time each day to avoid unexpected factors whenever possible. A routine can diminish the heartache and will allow the child to simultaneously build trust in her independence and in you as their teacher.
  • Attention: When separating, have the parent give the child full attention, be loving, and provide affection. Then say good-bye quickly despite her antics or cries for them to stay.
  • Be specific, child style. When discussing their parents return, provide specifics that the child understands. If you know they'll be back by 3:00 pm, tell it to the child on his terms; for example, say, "Mommy will be back after nap time and before afternoon snack." Define time the child can understand as part of their daily routine.