Handling separation anxiety with empathy

Separation anxiety is a natural behavioural trait that children may develop as early as six months. I first noticed it in my son when he was a baby, and it only became prominent when he was about 18 months. This went on well past two years of age. Once he turned three, though, he became a confident boy, and has remained so except for the occasional hiccups.

When your baby or toddler shows separation anxiety, you may feel that you've done something 'wrong'. This extends to some preschoolers as well, and is still natural at that age. You may see other kids doing well without their parents, and wonder why yours throws a crying fit every time you go out of sight. But you mustn't feel guilty - you've done nothing wrong. It's only natural that your child wants to be close to the person who loves  him or her the most. And some kids are more sensitive about their emotions than others. Or they are shy around other people.

If your child has separation anxiety, it may take many attempts to make them comfortable and settled down with another caregiver, or in a new environment (or both). I've previously shared tips on settling your toddler in that situation.

While you must do everything you can to make your child comfortable in a new situation, you can also work on helping themselves deal with the roots of their separation anxiety. Think about it. What toddler would be happy to see their Mom or Dad, the most precious people in the world to them, say good-bye and leave? For them, a minute may well be an hour. By putting yourself in their little shoes, you can better understand how to deal with a toddler who refuses to leave you.

Using empathy to help your toddler or preschooler deal with separation anxiety.

Here are some ways to use empathy to help your toddler with separation anxiety:

Give them confidence

By making them confident about themselves, you let them realize that they can do for a while without you. Slowly build confidence in your toddler in being independent. Let them do little tasks every day without your help. Toddlers are actually capable of doing a lot more tasks than you would think. You can also make them work on articulating their needs through words or actions. A caregiver other than yourself may not understand them as well as you do, and that can be frustrating.

Teach them to trust others

At a certain level, trust is important for us to function as a society. Demonstrate your trust in others by being relaxed with them and showing your child they are fine to be around. Be social and friendly with new people, and encourage them to reach out to new acquaintances. If your toddler is naturally shy, they may not be open to new people, but will at least be accepting of their presence.

Show your permanence

Always tell your child you'll be back, every time. It may seem like common sense to you, but your toddler will need to get the reassurance. You could talk about an activity you will do when you get back. For example, you can say how you will be there to put them to bed.

Make it gradual

If you have to leave your toddler somewhere on a regular basis, start by doing it for a shorter duration at first. Let them get used to it, as you gradually increase the time you leave them for. As I said, even an hour may seem like a lifetime to toddlers, but once they get into a routine, they will recognize tthat you'll be back later.

Give them a momento

This may not work with every child, but if you give your toddler a little something to 'take care of' for you, they will feel more calm, and connected to you. Or, just give them a favourite toy to have something familiar from home to hold on to.

As with most toddler behaviours, you will eventually see separation anxiety disappear as they grow older. It may reappear when they go through a big change, but will usually be short lived.

Toddler Tips 5099050636465794952

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