Does your toddler get upset when you try to leave or whenever you are no longer in sight? Chances are he or she is experiencing separation anxiety (also known as separation protest). Separation anxiety usually starts around nine months of age, peaks near 15 months of age, and starts to fade sometime before the third birthday. It begins around the same time that babies develop a sense of "object permanence." This means they are learning that things and people exist even when they can't see them. Unfortunately, at this same stage, children don't understand the concept of time so they get upset because they don't know if or when you'll come back.
Even though separation anxiety is perfectly normal, it can be upsetting for both parents and children. There are things you can do to help your child (and yourself) through this challenging time:
- Be calm and strong when you leave. If your child gets upset, act confident and stay calm even when you don't feel that way. If you are calm and don't make a big fuss, it will become less stressful for your child.
- Have a goodbye routine. A kiss at the door, saying goodbye to your child as well as his or her favourite stuffed toy, singing a song can all be part of a routine. Sneaking off without saying goodbye might seem like an easy thing to do, but it's not the best thing to do. Children learn to handle separation better if they know and are told it will occur.
- Let your child get used to you leaving. Try making a few very short trips, such as going for a 20-minute walk, then gradually work your way up to longer separations.
- Encourage independence. Let your child play independently (while being supervised). Also try letting your child fall asleep on his or her own.
Separation anxiety will pass as children get older and become more independent. For more information on helping your child overcome separation anxiety visit: