June 2, 2021 — By Wendy Sachs
Saying goodbye to a parent or caregiver is difficult for most children at some point in their development. For some kids, however, there is an anxiety that can be overwhelming. We need to help kids manage those big feelings.
It shows up developmentally in kids for the first time usually around the age of 9 months when the concept of object permanence develops. The best thing to do with infants is to keep transitions short and develop some routines (like a special kiss goodbye then out the door). Know that baby likely cries for a few minutes and will easily be distracted once you are gone.
It can be more difficult when your child is a toddler. Stressed out toddlers can be challenging at 15-20 months old as they are struggling with wanting to be independent but also very much connected to parents or a caregiver. You provide security while they are exploring the world and so it makes sense that they can become anxious when a parent or nanny leaves.
Keep transitions quick. This is the perfect age to develop a few leaving rituals like a special song, a high five or snuggle to reassure a child you are still connected emotionally even when you are not there. For kids who seem more affected, you can try to practice leaving and coming back after a short time away. The best way to allay these fears is for the child to learn that you will always come back.
As kids enter into preschool age, they may go thru another phase of separation anxiety, especially around new activities or school. Don’t worry it is totally natural. Just be consistent and remember that by leaving, you are giving them a chance to learn.
Kids need the space to feel the anxiety of separation. After all, we as adults experience this as well! But as an adult, we know how to handle that emotion. Kids are not quite sure. Give your little one time to practice. When we cancel plans or do not ever leave their side, we may be sending the wrong message. When we face separation with love and support, we teach them that they are capable of handling these big feelings. We trust them. They are going to be ok.
A few things to remember:
- Be sure to use child language when explaining to an anxious child how long you will be gone. Kids don’t understand time the way we do- but they will understand that you will be gone for 2 sleeps or you will be back before dinner.
- Be upbeat. Kids take emotional cues from the adults around them. If you are anxious, they will be too. It can be super difficult to leave a screaming baby, but if you can keep calm and happy it will help ease fears.