Help Your Kids Let Go

Separation anxiety is common and normal in the very young

“Have a great day,” you tell your young children as you drop them off at day care, preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school. But hold on—what if your child suddenly throws a good old-fashioned tantrum, clinging to you and refusing to go?

Though frustrating for parents, little kids struggling with separation anxiety is typical and actually indicates that development is progressing as expected. Common in infants and toddlers, separation anxiety usually subsides by age 2. But it’s perfectly normal for this problem to rear its head from time to time throughout early childhood in times of stress.

However, if your child is school-aged and still has an extreme, persistent fear of leaving you, he or she may have a more serious condition. This type of consistent behavior after preschool is not normal and may hint that your child has concerns about family matters, safety, or fears of social rejection. Called separation anxiety disorder, it requires help from a mental health professional.

But if your child has ordinary separation anxiety, don’t worry. This, too, shall pass.

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics about how to cope with separation anxiety:

  • Reassure your child that you’ll return at the end of the day. It may also help to provide specific details that he or she will understand. For example, instead of explaining you’ll be back at 3 p.m., say, “I’ll be back after nap time and before afternoon snack.”

  • Establish a consistent drop-off ritual. The routine will diminish the heartache of the separation and help you avoid unexpected factors.

  • Keep goodbyes short and sweet, even when your kid acts out or cries for you to stay.

  • Before starting day care or preschool, practice being apart. Schedule a playdate or ship him or her off to grandma’s—anything that gives your child a chance to experience goodbyes and thrive in your absence.

 

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