Separation Anxiety is developmentally normal and a phase that children go through at different ages and stages of their development. Having separation anxiety is part of growing up and is a crucial stage in a child’s development. In fact, it isn’t just children alone who experience this, parents may also face separation anxiety when they first send their child to school.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Farewells can be tough, whether you are dropping your child off at the childcare or leaving him/her home with someone. At this stage, your toddler understands object permanence, an idea that continues to exist when it cannot be seen or heard, for example, daddy and mummy.i
However, toddlers are unable to comprehend the concept of time. Leaving your toddler in a bedroom for a few minutes or with a babysitter for a few hours feels like the same amount of time for them. This can be scary as toddlers believe their survival is dependent on having a primary caregiver close by.
What are some Separation Anxiety Symptoms?
Separation anxiety is typically most prevalent in toddlers between 8 to 18 months. Symptoms usually begin when a caregiver is departing. Children may cling, throw a tantrum, or resist other caregivers in an attempt to convince the parent not to leave. They may also show signs of fear and restlessness when a parent is in another room, when he is left alone at bedtime, or when being dropped off at day-care. The outbursts usually subside once the caregiver is out of view. This anxiety serves to keep the child close to the caregiver, who is their source of love and safety.
How to reassure your child and help with easier transitions?
Here are a few tips on how to reassure your child.
Preparation for school
1. Be positive and encouraging when speaking about school to your child.
2. Encourage your child to prepare their items ready for school. Example, choosing their schoolbag and putting water bottle in their bag.
Examples of child with comfort object in school
3. Bring along a comfort object of your child to the school as security comfort. Examples of objects are soft toys or books.
4. Speak to them about school during the journey to school, the fun things they do and their friends.
5. Remind your child who they will be seeing in school. (Teachers, friends etc.)
6. Remind your child on the exciting things that they will be learning. (Reading, writing, Numeracy, exploring their world etc.)
Ready for school / After School
7. Say a proper goodbye to your child at the school drop off area. (Keep reading for tips on how to say goodbye)
Getting cuddles and a story from his teacher during a moment of anxiety
8. Ask about their day from their teachers so you can reinforce positive happy memories with them.
9. Remind your child of the happy occasions at school.
If your child is finding it difficult to integrate, consider arranging some playdates outside of school. Playdates offer your child a chance to develop relationships with one or two special friends in a play-based environment.
How to say goodbye?
Saying goodbye to daddy in the morning and getting his comfort object
1. A hug, a kiss and a reminder that mum/dad will be there to pick them up at the end of the day or session and then walk away!
2. Sometimes a special handshake or special ritual (see you later, alligator) or even a special kiss.
3. If your child is crying, remain positive and calm. Often, a teacher will feedback that the child stopped crying only a minute later.
Rest assured separation anxiety is a normal part of development and will disappear over time. Every child is unique and there is no fixed time frame for when separation anxiety appears or disappears. It may even take a few months for a child’s anxiety to dissipate, so be prepared for regression, especially when routines change because of a vacation, illness, or a move. Just remember, when you trust the teachers and leave your child in the good hands of the teachers in school, your child will be able to feel the same way too!