NEMOURS SEP 2017
AGES, STAGES, CAUSES, AND HELPFUL STRATEGIES TO COMBAT ANXIETY
Tearful, tantrum-filled goodbyes are common during a child’s earliest years. Around the first birthday, many kids develop separation anxiety, getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else.
How Separation Anxiety Develops
Babies adapt pretty well to other caregivers. Parents probably feel more anxiety about being separated than infants do! As long as their needs are being met, most babies younger than six months adjust easily to other people.
Sometime between four to seven months, babies develop a sense of object permanence and begin to learn that things and people exist even when they’re out of sight.
When they’re eight months to one year old, infants grow more independent, yet are even more uncertain about being separated from a parent. This is when separation anxiety develops, and children may become agitated and upset when a parent tries to leave.
Babies realize that there’s only mom or dad, and when they can’t see you, that means you’ve gone away. As they don’t yet understand the concept of time, they do not know if or when you’ll come back.
Stresses Can Trigger Anxiety
Whether you need to go into the next room for just a few seconds, leave your child with a sitter for the evening, or drop off your child at daycare, your little one might now react by crying, clinging to you, and resisting attention from others.
The timing of separation anxiety can vary widely from child to child. Some kids might go through it later, between 18 months and 30 months of age. Some never experience it. And for others, stressors like a new childcare situation or caregiver, a new sibling, moving to a new place, or tension at home can trigger anxiety.
How long does separation anxiety last? In some cases, depending on a child’s temperament, separation anxiety can last from infancy through the elementary school years. In cases where the separation anxiety interferes with an older child’s normal activities, it can indicate a deeper anxiety disorder. If separation anxiety appears out of the blue in an older child, there might be another problem, like bullying or abuse.
Separation anxiety is different from the normal feelings older kids have when they don’t want a parent to leave. In those cases, the distress can usually be overcome if a child is distracted enough and won’t re-emerge until the parent returns and the child remembers that the parent left.
If you come running back into the room every time your child cries and then stay there longer or cancel your plans, your child will continue to use this tactic to avoid separation.
What You May Be Feeling
During this stage, you might experience different emotions. It can be gratifying to feel that your child is finally as attached to you as you are to him or her. But you’re likely to feel guilty about taking time out for yourself, leaving your child with a caregiver, or going to work. And you may start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of attention your child seems to need from you.
Keep in mind that your little one’s unwillingness to leave you is a good sign that healthy attachments have developed between the two of you. Eventually, your child will be able to remember that you always return after you leave, and that will be enough comfort while you’re gone. This also gives kids a chance to develop coping skills and a little independence.
As hard as it may be to leave a child who’s screaming and crying for you, it’s important to have confidence that the caregiver can handle it. It may help both of you to set up a time that you will call to check in, maybe 15 to 20 minutes after you leave. By that time, most kids have calmed down and are playing with other things. Don’t let yourself give in early and call sooner!
If you’re caring for another person’s child who’s experiencing separation anxiety, try to distract the child with an activity or toy, or with songs, games, or anything else that’s fun. You may have to keep trying until something just clicks with the child.
Also, try not to mention the child’s mother or father, but do answer the child’s questions about his or her parents in a simple and straightforward way. You might say: “Mommy and Daddy are going to be back as soon as they are finished with dinner. Let’s play with some toys!”
It’s Only Temporary
Remember that this phase will pass. If your child has never been cared for by anyone but you, is naturally shy, or has other stresses, it may be worse than it is for other kids.
Trust your instincts. If your child refuses to go to a certain babysitter or daycare center or shows other signs of tensions, such as trouble sleeping or loss of appetite, then there could be a problem with the childcare situation.
If intense separation anxiety lasts into preschool, elementary school, or beyond and interferes with your daily activities, discuss it with your doctor. It could be a sign of a rare but more serious condition known as separation anxiety disorder. Kids with separation anxiety disorder fear being lost from their family members and are often convinced that something bad will happen. Talk with your doctor if your child has signs of this, including:
- panic symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath) or panic attacks before a parent leaves
- nightmares about separation
- fear of sleeping alone (also common in kids who don’t have separation anxiety)
- excessive worry about being lost, kidnapped, or going places without a parent
For most kids, the anxiety of being separated from a parent passes without any need for medical attention. But if you have concerns, talk to your doctor. #
Courtesy of Nemours.