Baby: SEPARATION ANXIETY I
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
t can be heartbreaking: seeing your tiny baby’s face crumple as you turn to leave, hearing your three-year old’s sobs as you walk out of the classroom, or feeling that surge of guilt as your small child crawls after you when you head out for dinner. Separation anxiety is not easy on anyone, but it is an essential, healthy rite of passage and, if handled properly, is your child’s first building block towards secure, successful and happy relationships.
Here is all you need to know about separation anxiety and getting through it unscathed.
teacher or caregiver, and your child if you keep reappearing. COME BACK WHEN YOU SAID YOU WOULD: If you said you will be there when she wakes up from her nap, or after snack time, then be there. Of course there will be times when you are late, but at first make every effort to be on time. For those times you can’t, let the teacher or carer know, so that they can prepare your child. BE CARING: anxiety doesn’t go away, despite a parent’s best efforts. Some children experience intense and recurring bouts of separation anxiety beyond four years old, sometimes even into primary school. If these periods interfere with everyday activities like school, playdates, and friendships and last for months rather than days, it could mean that your child has developed separation anxiety disorder.
“There are many reasons why separation anxiety could reoccur or intensify: lack of reliable and predictable routines, trauma, arguing or divorce, a parent’s depression, addiction or illness,” suggests child and family therapist Geraldine Thomas, “but at the core is the child’s anxiety about her own emotional safety, her parent’s unreliability or fears about their parent’s wellbeing while the child is not there.” If this is the case there are a number of things you can do to help. The first is “to recognise how your own behaviour may be seen as out of control or unmanageable by your child,” explains Geraldine. Another step is to reassure your child that you will be fine while they are at school, tell them what you will be doing that day (even if you have to make something up) and reassure them that you will be fine and that you look forward to being together at the end of school. Geraldine also suggests writing a short note telling your child that you are thinking of them and leaving it in their school bag or lunch box, or giving them a number to call if they are really worried. “If it goes beyond that, then seeking professional help for the family may be a way to regain emotional regulation and a sense of emotional safety for the child and parents too,” says Geraldine.
The key to weathering the storm of separation anxiety is by being empathetic and consistent. START SIMPLE: Playing games like peeka-boo, or draping a cloth over your 9-month-old’s face, which he pulls off, all help kick-start the process by helping him to understand the concept of object permanence. KEEP IT FAMILIAR: Always leave your baby with someone he knows and trusts: granny, nanny, or friend. If it does need to be someone new, then set up a time beforehand to introduce your baby where you can be in the room while the caregiver and baby play and interact. KEEP IT SHORT, AT FIRST: Ease yourselves into times apart by only going out for
This is hard for your child. Years of psychological research has shown that an attitude of “pull yourself together”, or “toughen up” only leaves children feeling vulnerable, and creates a distrust and distance between parent and child. It is not easy to see your child upset or crying. You may feel guilty or worry incessantly about him when you are apart, and a clingy child that won’t let you put him down can leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and even resentful. It is okay to have all these feelings. Just keep reminding yourself that separation anxiety won’t last forever, and is a sign that your child has a healthy attachment to you and is learning to stand on her own two feet.