Few things tug at a parent’s heartstrings like the cries and pleas of a child in the throes of a separation anxiety attack; still, they are a normal (if distressing) part of childhood development. With proper coping strategies and plenty of love, the worst of your child’s anxieties can be managed until he’s older, at which point most children tend to outgrow their fears of being separated from a parent or familiar adult.
Managing your child’s separation anxiety and helping her to cope with the necessary but painful routine of parting is a matter of being patient, for the most part. Keeping your composure and maintaining a grip on your patience is absolutely necessary in order for you to successfully employ other management techniques.
- Establish a Goodbye Ritual – Sharing a special goodbye ritual with your little one is both comforting and reassuring to her, letting her know that staying at school, daycare, or under the care of a nanny is a new part of her routine. Because structure and repetition are so important to young children, establishing a ritual that accompanies every separation can help normalize that separation, making it less stressful for her over time.
- Stay Calm – Kids react to the emotional state of a parent or loved one, so allowing yourself to become overly emotional or anxious in her presence is likely to only exacerbate the anxiety and fear that she’s already feeling. Maintain your composure as best you can, saving the emotional moments for a time when you’re out of her sight.
- Don’t Hover or Linger – While it might seem that your hysterical child will never calm down after you leave, childcare providers will almost always reassure you that their emotional state will improve dramatically once you’re gone. Lingering around and hovering over her will only prolong the process, stretching out both her suffering and your own.
- Speak with Caregivers and Teachers – Experienced childcare providers and preschool or kindergarten teachers are well-versed in reassuring both hysterical children and their concerned parents, so don’t hesitate to speak with them about how your child is adjusting. When normal separation anxiety is particularly difficult for a child to shake, or persists after a significant adjustment period, these people are your best allies in combating your little one’s fears and helping her learn to cope with separation in a calm, healthy way.
- Resist the Temptation to Sneak Away – It can be very tempting to wait until your child is distracted and slip quietly from the room, but this may not be the most productive method of dealing with her separation anxiety. Looking up to find you inexplicably gone, without any sort of a goodbye, can lead to a panic that she’s been abandoned or, at the very least, to feel that she can’t always trust that you’ll be where you should be.
- Communicate With Your Child – You can help prepare your child for preschool, kindergarten, or childcare by talking about the upcoming change, practicing separation on a small scale, and answering any questions that she has. These methods can be very effective in preventing the worst of her anxiety before it starts, and maintaining that open line of communication as she adjusts to her new environment and has new experiences is vital.
- Be Firm and Consistent – Don’t waver or bring your child home after a particularly bad outburst, as it sends the message that a tantrum will yield the desired result of either leaving daycare or school with you or sending your nanny home, rather than being separated. Focus on maintaining a firm but gentle demeanor, and a strong grip on your resolve.
- Know When Separation Anxiety Indicates Something More Serious – While separation anxiety is a very natural, normal part of growing up for many children, there are times when it could indicate something more serious. If a previously happy, well-adjusted child begins to regress and show signs of anxiety again, or if existing anxiety is severe and does not lessen with time, you should contact your pediatrician or medical provider for advice.