Separation anxiety in babies and toddlers

Separation Anxiety

Whilst a baby will send the first few months of their life primarily with their main caregiver. There comes a time when that has to change. This can cause separation anxiety. This time can be very stressful for them as this could be the first time they have had to leave your side for an extended period of time. In this article, we will cover what separation anxiety is and some solutions how to ease it.

What is separation anxiety in toddlers?

Both babies and toddlers can experience separation anxiety. This will be worse when they are hungry, tired or sick. Which is unfortunately how they spend a lot of their early life. There are a few main times in the early years when separation anxiety is the most common. The first stage of this can come quite early in a baby’s life. As newborn babies depend on others, it will be very stressful when left alone, even for a few minutes. The next time to see this is when they become toddlers. Especially as they start to become more aware of what is happening around them. This is going to be a tough time. Their behavior is going to be loud, tearful and difficult to stop.  

Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder

How to ease separation anxiety

When separation anxiety occurs, it can be a tough time for both the adults and children involved. It can cause stress in both parties which can act as fuel and make the circumstances worse. As an adult, you have to remember, this is only temporary and will get better and luckily there are some ways in which you can ease the situation on the child’s part. It is definitely easier to ease a toddler’s anxiety as you can communicate with words. 

Separation anxiety in children | Raising Children Network

Start Early

When noticeable separation anxiety occurs in babies, the best way to ease this is to bring them in close to your body and make them feel safe. 

When a baby is younger, it’s good to start teaching them that change isn’t always a bad thing. Playing games such as peek-a-boo can reinforce that things that go away, do come back. If a child is being left with a nanny, get the nanny to start earlier. This way they will be used to them being around, before being left alone.

Use their Senses

When a child is too young to communicate with words, it doesn’t mean that other senses cant be used to help with separation. The main sense that can be harnessed to help in this situation is the sense of smell. Giving a baby something that smells of you while you’re gone can significantly decrease their anxiety. It will act as a reminder of the times spent being close by and can sometimes completely distract from the fact that the separation has happened.

Find the Source

Doing your best to find the source of your child’s anxiety will help you determine what are the triggers. If they are old enough to talk, simply asking them can do the trick. But it’s not always that simple. As there are so many triggers for this behavior identifying what it is causing it can be tricky. The most common ways are literal separation from a parent, being left somewhere unfamiliar like a nursery or childminder. Sometimes, separation anxiety can exist in the absence of a noticeable trigger. 

Acknowledge their Fears

No matter how unrealistic they may seem, you must acknowledge their fears. In the book, The Yes Brain: How to cultivate courage, curiosity and resilience in your child the authors tell us that children who are in a state of anxiety are in a reactive mental state. The child’s brain is in the fight, flight or freeze response and won’t be functioning as rationally as normal. This can cause their actions to seem extreme and out of character. In order to get their brain back to a rational state, their feeling needs to be acknowledged. This allows the child to have an emotional release, opening them up to become more reasonable. The best way to help a child in this state is to talk.

In the book, they refer to this as moving them into a ‘yes brain’ state. Using phrases like “You don’t need to be scared,” instead of “I can see you’re scared.” This will encourage a more positive spin on situations like this in the future.

Create Social Stories that Address their Worries

Before a child gets to experience anxiety. Tell them stories of what’s going to happen. For instance, make up a story about their first day with their nanny. Reiterate the positives, especially how they can go back home after. Don’t make the stories too unrealistic. This can make the problem worse when they realize that what they have been hearing isn’t going to happen. It can cause trust issues, which will only make the separations harder. 

Set Off Early

The last thing you need is to be late due to a meltdown. Start waking earlier or leaving the house earlier so there is plenty of time to address any emotion that may come up. Doing this will allow time for everyone to calm down without the fear of running late. 

Don’t Give in

It can be easy to let emotions take over and cave into giving the child what they want, which will usually involve not going where they need to. It is better to make going to nursery or daycare non-negotiable. If you give in at this time, not only will it take longer for them to get over the separation, it will reinforce that they can get their own way.

Have a quick goodbye ritual

Make it quick, but don’t skip it. It may be tempting to think its a good idea to sneak away when children are distracted, but this can actually make the situation worse once they realize whats happened.  There should be enough time for the child to feel at ease but don’t prolong the inevitable. Using the same goodbye ritual for most occasions when leaving for short periods of time will allow children to associate this with a return. 

Separation Anxiety | Penfield Building Blocks

Hopefully, separation anxiety doesn’t hit too hard for your young ones, but if it does, give the tips above a go. If you find any other tips or tricks to help with separation we would love to hear them in the comments. Finally, dont get stressed. It’s a phase, it will pass.