It’s perfectly normal for kids to feel anxious when they’re away from their parents. After all, you’re the people they depend on for everything! But for some kids, separation anxiety can be more intense and long-lasting, making it hard for them (and you) to cope with everyday activities like going to school or spending time with friends. If your child is struggling with separation anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help them feel more comfortable and secure:
Understand what separation anxiety is and why kids experience it.
Separation anxiety is a natural and developmentally appropriate emotional response in infants and young children when they are separated from parents or primary caregivers. It is estimated that 50% of infants and young children exhibit some symptoms of separation anxiety between 6-8 months old, with most cases resolved by age 3. However, separation anxiety can persist into the school-age years and adolescence for some children.
There are several possible explanations for why kids experience separation anxiety.
One theory is that it is an evolutionary mechanism to keep young children safe from harm 1. Another possibility is that it is a result of the child’s developing sense of object permanence or the understanding that things and people continue to exist even when they are out of sight 2. Additionally, separation anxiety may be triggered by a traumatic event such as moving to a new house or losing a family member 3.
Whatever the cause, separation anxiety can be a very stressful experience for both children and parents. Children may exhibit clinginess, crying, tantrums, or difficulty sleeping when separated from their caregiver. If you think your child may be experiencing separation anxiety, talk to your pediatrician for guidance on addressing it.
Talk about it.
One of the best things you can do is talk about what will happen before it happens. If you’re going to be away from your child for some time, let them know in advance. This will help them feel more prepared and less anxious. Some parents find it helpful to make a “schedule” of sorts, so their child knows exactly when they’ll be coming back.
Let them know that it’s perfectly normal to feel scared or nervous when they’re away from you and that there are lots of other kids who feel the same way. If your child is old enough, talk about what they’ll be doing while you’re gone. Let them know you’ll be back soon and that they’ll have fun in the meantime.
Finally, don’t give in to their demands if they try to avoid being left alone. This will only reinforce the behavior. If you’re patient and consistent, your child will eventually adjust and be just fine when you’re not around.
Make a plan.
If your child is really struggling with separation anxiety, it might be helpful to make a plan with them. This could involve coming up with a “secret code” that they can use to let you know if they’re feeling really upset, or it could be as simple as choosing a favorite toy to bring along when you’re away. Whatever the plan is, be sure to involve your child in coming up with it, so they feel like they have some control over the situation. For example, you could give your child a hug and say, “I love you, have a great day!” before you go or when you’re leaving.
Another option is to set up a “check-in” system, where you call or text your child at regular intervals to check in and see how they’re doing. This can help them feel more connected to you and less anxious about being apart.
Prepare your child for absences, like sleepovers or vacations.
If your child is going to be away from home for an extended period, it’s important to prepare them in advance. This might involve packing their favorite toy or book, or it could be as simple as making a list of activities they can do while you’re gone. Talk to them about how much you’ll miss them and let them know when you’ll be back.
If your child is old enough, you can also give them a camera to take pictures with while they’re away. This can help them feel like they’re still connected to you and their home.
It’s important to stay positive when you’re dealing with separation anxiety. This means avoiding phrases like “I have to go” or “I’ll be back soon.” Instead, try to focus on the positive aspects of being apart, like the fact that your child will get to play with their friends or learn new things. If you can stay calm and positive, your child will be more likely to do the same.
Remember that this is a phase, and it will eventually pass. In the meantime, try to be as patient and understanding as possible. If your child has a bad day, don’t get too upset or frustrated. Just let them know that you understand how they’re feeling and that it’s okay.
Some kids will outgrow separation anxiety on their own, but others may need a little extra help. If your child is still struggling after trying these tips, talk to their doctor or a therapist. They may be able to offer additional resources and support.
Deal with your own emotions during and after separation.
It’s normal to feel sad, anxious, or guilty when you’re away from your child. It’s important to deal with your own emotions without taking them out on your child. Try to stay positive and remember that this is a phase. If you’re really struggling, talk to a friend or family member for support.
Try to take some time for yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes each day. This can help you relax and recharge so that you can be more patient and understanding with your child.
When you’re finally reunited, take some time to connect with your child. This could involve playing a game together, reading a book, or talking about their day. This will help them feel loved and appreciated, and it will also give you a chance to bond and reconnect.
Remember that separation is a part of life, and it’s not always easy. They will eventually adjust and be just fine when you’re not around. They might even learn to enjoy their own company and the new experiences they have when you’re away.
It’s important to be firm but also understanding.
If your child is having a tough time, be there for them. Listen to their concerns and offer reassurance. Let them know that you understand how they’re feeling and that you’re there for them. This can be a difficult time for both of you but try to focus on the positive aspects of being apart.
If your child is old enough, you can also explain that there are times when everyone needs some space. This doesn’t mean you don’t love them; it just means that everyone needs a little time to themselves sometimes. This can help them understand your need for occasional alone time and why it’s nothing to be worried about.
Separation anxiety is a common and normal phase that many kids go through.
With a little patience and understanding, you can help your child through this tough time. Just be sure to stay positive and remain involved in their lives. They’ll eventually outgrow this phase with your support and be just fine.
You also need to be firm. It means setting clear boundaries and expectations. Explain to your child what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of behavior. If they’re acting out, let them know that it’s not okay and positively redirect their behavior. For example, if they’re throwing a tantrum, you could say something like, “I know you’re upset, but it’s not okay to hit. Let’s try deep breathing instead.”
It’s important to be firm but also understanding. Remember that your child is going through a tough time, and they may not be acting like themselves. Just be patient and remain positive, and things will eventually get better.
What to do if your child has a panic attack due to separation anxiety?
If your child has a panic attack due to separation anxiety, it is important to stay calm 4 5. This can be a scary experience for both you and your child, but it is important to remain calm and reassuring.
First, try to identify the trigger of the panic attack. This could be a specific situation, such as being in a crowd or being separated from you. Once you know the motivation, you can work on avoiding or easing it.
If a panic attack is happening, there are a few things you can do to help.
First, try to have your child focus on their breathing. Have them take slow, deep breaths and count to five as they inhale and exhale. This will help them calm down and focus on something other than their anxiety.
You can also try to distract your child from their panic attack. This could involve playing a game, listening to music, or even talking about something they enjoy. The goal is to get their mind off of their anxiety and help them relax.
Finally, reassure your child that you’re there for them. Let them know that they’re safe and that you’ll never leave them alone. This can help them feel more secure and ease their anxiety.
Create a sense of security.
Your child needs to know that you always come back. This means being consistent with your schedule and not leaving without saying goodbye. If you have to go unexpectedly, explain what’s happening and when you’ll be back. They need to know that you’re coming back for them to feel secure.
One of the best ways to ease separation anxiety is to create a sense of security for your child. This means having a routine and being consistent with your rules. Try to avoid last-minute changes or surprises, as this can make anxiety worse.
It can also help to have a special item that your child can take with them when they’re away from you. This could be a stuffed animal, a blanket, or a family photo. This will help them feel connected to you and remind them that you’re thinking of them.
Finally, make sure to keep in contact when you’re apart. This could involve sending text messages, photos, or even video chats. A few minutes of connection can go a long way toward easing anxiety.
Encourage them to try new things and meet new people.
This can help them feel more confident and independent, which can go a long way in reducing anxiety. Try to sign them up for activities they’re interested in, such as sports, music, or art. This will give them something to look forward to and help them meet new friends.
It’s also important to encourage them to spend time with other adults. This could be a grandparent, aunt, or family friend. This will help them feel more comfortable being away from you, giving you a break.
Finally, don’t forget to praise your child when they try something new or steps out of their comfort zone. This will reinforce the positive behavior and help them feel good about themselves.
It can be hard to see our little ones go through something as tough as separation anxiety, but with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can help them feel more comfortable when away from you. By following these guidelines, you’ll be giving your child the best chance possible to overcome their fears and feel confident in themselves. And that’s something we can all smile about. Thanks for reading!
Brenda Tillman is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Practitioner, a dedicated mom blogger, and a life enthusiast. She also has completed courses on Parenting Skills, Learning, and Education. She is married and is the proud mother of a boy and two girls. She loves being with her family and pets. She has been blogging for over five years now and enjoys sharing her thoughts on parenting, relationships, health & fitness as well as other topics that come up in life.