Easing Separation Anxiety in Children
Posted by Cecil Horwitz
Maybe your toddler has experienced it, or your friend’s child experienced it; separation anxiety is extremely common and usually occurs after 8 months of age, up until your child first starts school. It can range from a full on tantrum to a few stray tears and can come up at different times during your child’s development.
Separation anxiety is a natural behaviour and although it’s hard not to, you shouldn’t feel worried if your child displays symptoms of this common affliction. In fact there is a positive side to separation anxiety: it represents a change in your child’s thinking, they are now “aware that they are a separate entity from you but one that is still dependant” 1. Your child is recognizing your importance in their life and expressing an opinion that your presence is important to their survival.
Even though separation anxiety has some positive traits it is still not a behaviour that should be encouraged. It is often one of the first challenges a child faces and is an early experience parents can use on their path to build their children into emotionally healthy adults.
It may not always feel easy but no matter how much your child cries when you leave the house (or even the room) you should go when you say you will. When your child sees that their crying has caused you to return it just means they will cry longer and louder the next time around. Instead of giving in to their crying try instead to tell your child when you are going to be back. “Even if your child is not yet speaking, they will still often understand what you are communicating to them.”2 Not only does this let your child know you are leaving but it lets them know you are not abandoning them and you will be back.
It may not always feel easy to leave the house when your child is experiencing separation anxiety, but getting some space is an important developmental step to helping your child overcome their anxiety. Not only are you starting on the important path of good communication with your child you are also signalling to them that this time apart is only temporary.
A child will often experience worse separation anxiety if you leave them without telling them. It may seem like a tempting option however it only delays the inevitable reaction they are going to have when they learn about your departure and it doesn’t give them an indication that you will be coming back. Your unexpected departure is also validating their fears that you are abandoning them. Instead give a short, loving goodbye with an indication to your child when you will return.
Scheduling time for soothing family activities can also help soothe anxious children. This will also help your child not feel abandoned by showing them you are setting aside specific time for them.
Another alternative is pediatric acupuncture which is a great way to relieve anxiety in children and toddlers as this form of Traditional Chinese Medicine minimizes the need for medications and invasive therapies, provides excellent preventative care, and provides children with non-invasive, nurturing quick relief. Whole Family Health is highly specialized in treating children, and benefits of pediatric acupuncture are far reaching and can help an anxious child achieve balance.
During this time most importantly of all, you need to stay strong and confident. If you hear your child crying don’t go back inside, that will only encourage their anxiety. This can be a challenging time for any parent, but it is one of the first emotional obstacles a child and parent overcome. By starting open communication with your child early on you can lay the brick work for a healthy and honest relationship in the years to come.
For more information on we can help your child, call us now: 780-756-7736.