How Long Does It Last
How long separation anxiety lasts can vary, depending on the child and how a parent responds. In some cases, depending on a child’s temperament, separation anxiety can last from infancy through the elementary school years.
Separation anxiety that affects an older child’s normal activities can be a sign of a deeper anxiety disorder. If separation anxiety appears out of the blue in an older child, there might be another problem, like bullying or abuse.
Make Sure There’s No Other Reason The Child Could Be Crying
You might think that a child is throwing a tantrum because of separation anxiety. But just because their mood started around the same time that their parents left doesn’t necessarily mean separation was the cause.
The child may have hurt themselves without you noticing. Maybe the family dog came up and took the toy out of their hands while you weren’t looking. Or they might be trying to get out of something they don’t want to do, like take their bath or go to bed.
If you’re watching a baby, check to make sure they dont need changing and aren’t just hungry or tired. Often they just want something to eat or to be rocked to sleep.
What To Do If Your Baby Has Separation Anxiety
Work, adult-only events, or even just going on a date with your partner mean separation from your little one, no matter how much of a fit they may throw beforehand. What can you do to help your baby have an easier time? You might try:
- Offering calm support.Reassure your child that there is nothing to be scared of, that you will return, and that they can have fun with toys and other people in the meantime. A hug, a big smile, and a calm voice will go a long way in showing your little one there is nothing to fear!
- Sticking to routines whenever possible. Anticipating what to expect will help your child feel more confident. Teaching other caregivers your usual routines can also offer your baby the comfort of predictability.
- Practicing. Practicing short periods of separation with people and situations your child is already familiar with can help. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect! Nothing feels sadder than walking away from your child as they are crying. But by providing reassurance first, leaving them in a fun situation, and returning with a big smile on your face, happy to see them, you will quickly teach your little one that there is no need to worry.
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How To Help With Separation Anxiety At Night
For some babies, separation anxiety kicks in at night. According to Stanford Childrens Health, night-time separation anxiety most often starts around 6 months, with the reason being that, at this age, babies very much want to be around their parents, and they dont yet understand that separations are short term.
As with any type of separation anxiety, the exact age that bedtime anxiety starts varies, as does the length of time it lasts, according to Husain. Again, though, sticking with something familiar each night will help assuage the nervousness your child feels.
Establishing a set routine at night is extremely important, as babies tend to like structure and the same routine daily in order for an easier bedtime, says Husain. Performing patterned behavior such as bath, brush, book and bed helps to establish a recognizable routine that will help make baby more comfortable separated from their parents.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, even if your little one hasnt shown signs of separation anxiety for a time, it can still crop back up. Separation anxiety can come and go depending on different circumstances such as vacation, moving or a new sibling, notes Husain. Anything that may disrupt the routine may cause the sleep pattern to be disturbed and need to be reset.
Key Points About Separation Anxiety Disorder In Children
SAD is a type of mental health problem. A child with SAD worries a lot about being apart from family members or other close people.
The cause of SAD is both biological and environmental.
Symptoms of SAD are more severe than the normal separation anxiety that nearly every child has to some degree between the ages of 18 months and 3 years of age.
A child must have symptoms that last at least 4 weeks to be considered SAD.
A mental health evaluation is needed to diagnose SAD.
Treatment includes therapy and medicines.
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Your Baby Hates Playing Alone
If your little one suddenly goes off her favourite toys, dont despair its another really common sign she feels anxious. You may find shes no longer happy to play alone, even with toys that she previously loved, says Sarah. Shell probably want you to play with her, which can be time-consuming for you but is a great way to reassure her that youre not going anywhere.
Get Familiar With The Child Ahead Of Time
If parents are on board, it can really help to start getting acquainted with their child before you’ll be left alone to babysit them.
You might come over ahead of time, before your first babysitting shift, just to familiarize yourself with the kids and their home. Of course, parents would need to pay you for your time. But many are willing to have a trial babysitting shift while they’re still in the house, just to make sure everything will go smoothly.
They might even want to have you over for dinner one time, just so the child is used to seeing your face and feels comfortable with you being in their home.
If you aren’t able to arrange a separate time to meet kids beforehand, at least see if you can schedule to arrive an extra 30 minutes early on the first sit. That way, you can spend some time getting to know the child while their parents are still there and begin forming a bond. It will make it easier to transition when it’s time for their parents to go out.
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Don’t Come Back Until You Are Really Back
It’s okay to stand behind the door and listen to how long it takes for your child to calm down. But stay cool, don’t go in.
Even though it took more than a year for my son not to cry at my departure, I knew that his crying would only last a minute or two at the most. I knew that from listening behind the door and from what the day care staff told me.
Dont Do The Slope Off
Lots of people might have told you that a good way to leave a clingy child is to slope off when theyre not watching. But this will quite likely mean your child thinks that sometimes, you disappear and they dont get any warning, so they had better watch out. Instead, say a proper, happy goodbye and then leave .
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How Parents Can Help Children At Home
There are things parents can do to help children and adolescents learn to manage their anxious feelings. Parent support plays a key role in helping kids learn to cope independently. Try these strategies at home to help your child succeed outside of the home:
Make a plan to help your child transition to school in the morning
Help your child reframe anxious thoughts by coming up with a list of positive thoughts
Write daily lunchbox notes that include positive phrases
Avoid overscheduling. Focus on playtime, downtime, and healthy sleep habits
Alert your child to changes in routine ahead of time
Empathize with your child and comment on progress made
Keep Separation Situations Reduced When Possible:
The more your baby clings to you, the more alluring it may seem to force feed ‘lessons of independence’ to your baby by ignoring your baby’s needs.
It’s completely natural to think this way , but you may not want to go there! Your baby isn’t manipulating you. He or she really needs you to feel whole and secure.
But if you really have to leave to go somewhere at some point, which we all do, there are ways to prepare your baby for it:
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What To Do When Separation Anxiety Gets More Serious
Separation anxiety usually fades away as a child grows up and becomes used to different people and situations. If it persists, or if you see major changes in your childs behaviour, such as panic, nightmares, or excessive worries and fears, they could be developing an anxiety disorder.
Pay Attention To Your Child At Large Gatherings
When you arrive someplace with a lot of faces, avoid pushing your toddler to interact without you. Instead, wait until they take an interest in othersbut don’t wander off and disappear. “They might accept being held by someone, but only minutes later decide that it’s too much,” says Pantley.
Be ready to scoop your child up if they get upset pushing them beyond their limits will only make the next group situation more difficult. And don’t stress if you have to stay by your toddler’s side the whole time. “You’re not crippling themyou’re offering support, which will help them feel comfortable in future social settings,” says Dr. Walfish.
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If Theyre Old Enough Plan For Later
You could talk to older babies and toddlers about what youll be doing later. You might talk to them about having dinner together later, the play date youre taking them on after nursery finishes, or the book youll both read this afternoon.
With this youre reinforcing the message that yep: you will be coming back. Its also important that you follow your promises to build your childs confidence .
Show Confidence In Your Baby And The Caregiver Shes Being Left With
Anxiety is contagious. If you respond with your own anxiety, it only serves to intensify your baby’s emotions. Instead show confidence in your baby and their caregiver by taking some deep breaths, maintaining a relaxed body and facial expression, and using a positive tone of voice when you drop them off.
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How Will I Know If My Baby Has Separation Anxiety
Crying, whimpering, scowling, frowning and generally appearing unhappy are classic signs. Your baby may become more clingy and if youre carrying them, almost feel they are attached to you with Velcro.
Babies who are experiencing separation anxiety will often wake at night. Even if they have been sleeping through the night for a couple of months they may start to wake again overnight not so much to feed but to be reminded that you are still close. This is extremely normal. From a biological perspective, night time used to pose the greatest risk to our survival. When we were asleep and it was dark, predators were more prevalent. Which may be the reason why babies still need their parents close by at night to help them calm and relax enough to be able to switch off and go back to sleep.
Some babies become deeply distressed and it takes quite a while to help them calm. Reassuring a baby with separation anxiety is often not alleviated by a quick fix.
How Do I Handle Separation Anxiety In My Child
While it may be tempting to avoid separation at all costs, this is not an effective long-term solution. Children seek reassurance in knowing they can safely navigate a brief separation. This reassures them that youre available when needed and that theyre safe and secure.
There are some ways that you can manage separation anxiety. Some helpful tips include:
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Don’t Be Afraid To Call The Parents
If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed and nothing you do seems to calm the child down, as a last resort you might just have to call their parents. Especially if you’ve babysat for this child before without any issues, and something seems like it might be wrong. It’s better to be safe and check with them to see what they want you to do. Or, if it continues, they might even want to come home and make sure themselves that everything is okay.
What Causes Separation Anxiety
Its a sign they like you when they get upset theyre worried that when you leave their sight, you might no longer exist!
Over time, they develop the understanding that when youve disappeared out of view, it doesnt mean youve disappeared altogether and so usually children grow out of it as they come to learn this.
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Give Them Independence After A Nap
If your toddler wakes up from a nap and is happily playing in their crib, don’t rush in to get them. “Let your child have the chance to experience what it feels like to be by themselves and have a good time,” suggests Pantley. Finding that they’re comfortable with it will boost their confidence and independence, and ultimately help them feel more secure on their own.
You Might Notice That Your Son Or Daughter Is Exhibiting The Following:
- Unrealistic and preoccupying worry about harm being caused to their caregiver, or worry that they may not return if separated.
- Disproportionate worry that an event such as being lost or kidnapped will lead to separation from their major caregiver.
- Reluctance or refusal to go to school for fear of separation.
- Being overly clingy to you or another caregiver.
- Reluctance or refusal to go to sleep unless their carer is near them.
- Excessive fear of being alone.
- Nightmares about separation.
- Distress in anticipation of separation.
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At What Age Do Babies Start Feeling Separation Anxiety
Infants usually develop object permanence and separation anxiety when theyre about 8 months old. It usually peaks when your baby is 1 year old and resolves by the age of 2 or 3 years old.
It usually starts to improve once your child develops a better memory. It also helps when they learn problem-solving, language, and cognitive skills in the preschool years.
If severe anxiety persists, then it may be a sign of a generalized anxiety disorder. If your child has symptoms that interfere with daily living, notify their provider.
Easing Separation Anxiety Disorder: Tips For School
For children with separation anxiety disorder, attending school can seem overwhelming and a refusal to go is commonplace. But by addressing any root causes for your childs avoidance of school and by making changes at school, though, you can help reduce your childs symptoms.
Help a child who has been absent from school return as quickly as possible. Even if a shorter school day is necessary initially, childrens symptoms are more likely to decrease when they discover that they can survive the separation.
Ask the school to accommodate your childs late arrival. If the school can be lenient about late arrival at first, it can give you and your child a little wiggle room to talk and separate at your childs slower pace.
Identify a safe place. Find a place at school where your child can go to reduce anxiety during stressful periods. Develop guidelines for appropriate use of the safe place.
Allow your child contact with home. At times of stress at school, a brief phone calla minute or twowith family may reduce separation anxiety.
Send notes for your child to read. You can place a note for your child in their lunch box or locker. A quick I love you! on a napkin can reassure a child.
Provide assistance to your child during interactions with peers. An adults help, whether it is from a teacher or counselor, may be beneficial for both your child and the other children theyre interacting with.
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What Is Separation Anxiety Disorder In Children
All children and teens feel some anxiety. It is a normal part of growing up. Separation anxiety is normal in very young children. Nearly all children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old have separation anxiety and are clingy to some degree. But the symptoms of SAD are more severe. A child must have symptoms of SAD for at least 4 weeks for the problem to be diagnosed as SAD. A child with SAD has worries and fears about being apart from home or family that are not right for his or her age.
When Do I Need To Worry
Although it may be difficult to hear your child cry, remember that separation anxiety does have a positive aspect: It indicates that a healthy attachment has formed between a caregiver and a child. While separation anxiety in toddlers isn’t something to worry about, do watch for signs of extreme anxiety, says Julia F. Heberle, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania.
In a small number of cases, children beyond the age of toddlerhood will develop . Dr. Heberle recommends analyzing the situation surrounding your child’s feelings. Is there parental conflict, divorce, or something wrong with the child care setting? If so, separation anxiety may be amplified. If your child shows excessive symptoms, such as vomiting, nightmares, or unrelenting worry, contact your pediatrician.
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