Easing Separation Anxiety

Many parents are all too familiar with the signs of separation anxiety. The tears, tantrums and pleas not to leave may be a normal part of development, but can still be tough on everyone – mom, dad, caregivers and, of course, your little one.

“Separation anxiety tends to happen around nine months when a baby understands object permanence – that you still exist even when you are not in the same room as her,” says Veronica Linares MD, FAAP and internist/pediatrician with Adventist Medical Group. “Try to keep in mind that as difficult as it may be, it’s a developmental stage. Leaving your baby will get easier.”

Separation anxiety can also pop up again when children enter preschool, make a big transition like going from half-day to full day school, or head back to school after summer break.

If you’re dealing with separation anxiety or are expecting a rough patch ahead, Dr. Linares recommends a few simple tips:

1. Ease into a new routine.

Slowly introduce your little one to a new place, person or schedule to help make the transition easier on everyone. Consider:

  • If you’re heading back to work, have a grandparent come over for a few hours to get your baby used to having someone else care for him.
  • Drop off your baby for a few hours a day at daycare instead of jumping into a full day, five days a week.
  • If your child is heading to a new school, schedule a time before class starts to let her see her new room. Ask your school about open house or other opportunities for your little one to become familiar with the new setting and people.

2. Set the tone.

Babies and children can sense when parents are worried, stressed or upset. Do your best to stay positive about the upcoming transition:

  • Start talking about the new schedule a few days before it begins. Ask older children what they are most excited about.
  • Share some of your favorite experiences from your childhood about school, camp or going to a babysitter’s house.
  • Stay calm and be reassuring during drop-offs.
  • Give a quick hug and leave. Lingering often makes good-byes even more difficult.

 3. Consistency is key.

Children and babies thrive on structure and routine. Stick to a consistent schedule so your child can learn what to expect.

  • Create a morning routine to help make it a little easier to leave the house each day.
  • Do your best to drop off and pick up your little one at the same time.
  • Sometimes, it’s best for one parent to do drop-off and the other to do pick-up. Try to keep that the same each day so your child knows whom to expect.

Watch for Red Flags

Separation anxiety is a normal part of development. However, if the tears and worries last longer than six weeks, there may be something else going on. Share your concerns with your child’s teacher or caregiver. Together, you may be able to pinpoint any issues and address them so everyone can have an enjoyable, stress-free day away.

Your pediatrician can also help you navigate separation anxiety and other developmental milestones (or hurdles!)