Separation anxiety affects kids of all ages.
Even if your child has never shown signs of it before, they can still experience it when they’re older. It simply manifests itself in different ways.
There are plenty of telltale signs that your child is struggling with separation anxiety. Very young children may become upset when the parent goes to another room of the house. It could also look like your child having a meltdown when you leave for work. Or they may start to cry when you drop them off at school. Older children may complain of headaches or stomach aches in anticipation of being separated.
The good news?
It’s natural for kids who are very young to feel a bit nervous or anxious when you leave. This is especially true if you’re the primary caregiver.
The bad news?
If separation anxiety isn’t dealt with, it can become worse over time. It could even develop into a disorder.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to understand the causes and signs. Then, you can learn how to ease your child’s worries.
Is Separation Anxiety Normal?
There are elements of separation anxiety in children that are perfectly healthy and normal. They occur at different times throughout your child’s life.
Most babies start to experience separation anxiety sometime before they turn a year old. From there, they can experience it on and off until they’re about four or five.
But the level of anxiety they get from being away from you is what matters. Some kids can manage this anxiety well, while for others it can be a terrifying experience. In these cases, the anxiety doesn’t go away easily.
In some extreme cases, your child may struggle with separation so much that it can start to affect their lives negatively. They may try to avoid playdates and birthday parties, lose friends, have difficulties in school, etc. These worries don’t just go away as the child gets older.
Even older children struggle with separation anxiety in different ways. While younger children are mostly anxious at the time of separation, older children have more anxiety in anticipation of being separated. For example, older children may worry about things that could go wrong when you’re away or when you have hired a babysitter for the night.
Some of the most common ways separation anxiety manifest itself for various ages include:
- Clinging to you (literally or figuratively)
- Refusing to fall asleep at night or having nightmares once asleep
- Fear that something bad will happen to you/another loved one
- Refusing to attend school
- Complaining that they feel sick
These signs and symptoms can be different for every child, but being able to read them and figure out what they’re really trying to say will make it easier to help your child.
How to Ease Separation Anxiety in Kids
If your child is constantly worried about being away from you and shows some of the symptoms mentioned above, here’s what you can do:
- Practice separation situations – Try leaving your child with someone they trust for short periods of time. As they get more comfortable, you can extend the amount of time you’re gone.
- Develop a routine – Get your child into a routine before their school day begins or before you have to leave for work. Familiarity can help to ease their worries.
- Don’t make it a big deal – It’s tempting to create a lot of fanfare and long goodbyes before you leave. Instead, let your child know where you’ll be and when you’ll be back, and then go. It might seem harsh at first, and you don’t have to be cold. But don’t extend your goodbyes—it can be even harder on the child.
- Come back when you say you will – Never make promises to your child that you know you won’t be able to keep.
- Reassurance – Keeping a smile on your face and reassuring your child that they will be fine is one of the best things you can do. There will be times when you’ll want to give in and let them stay with you, but that could hinder the process in the long run. Let them know everything will be okay and keep things scheduled as planned.
Try putting these tips into practice right away. The sooner you get started on adding them to your routine, the better.
Dealing with Severe Separation Anxiety
In some cases, the worries your child feels can become so severe they turn into separation anxiety disorder. In these cases, counseling or other resources may be needed to help them get through.
If you’re worried about your child’s anxious behavior (no matter how old they are) when you have to part, you’re not alone. Contact me if your child is struggling. Together, we can go through a variety of anxiety-reduction strategies to help them cope with their worries.