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Separation Anxiety


Separation Anxiety

Julie Almquist, M.S., LMHP
​​​Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

At what age does separation anxiety begin?

​​Typically we see an increase in separation anxiety in toddlers between eighteen and twenty four months. While that's a really exciting time for both parents and toddlers because it's filled with excitement and exploration, it can be also daunting. It's the first time they start to explore but it's also the first time that they start to experience that mom and dad aren't here.

How can parents help with separating transitions?

It's important for parents to keep their game face on so that kids don't see distress on their faces when it's time for transition or separation. The longer we make that goodbye, the more difficult it is for kids to separate and we sort of send them a message that this is a big deal and really, what we want to do is send a message that this is really normal and it's going to be okay.

Sometimes when we've been separated from our toddler we make kind of big deal when we get back together and it's better if we make those as casual as possible so that kids start to see, this is normal and this is how we do it and it's ok.

How should parents handle nighttime separation?

Have a consistent bedtime, have a consistent bedtime routine like reading books, bath time, maybe a snack, some time in with kids just before bedtime. All those things are very reassuring for kids and if you can keep that consistent day-to-day it helps reassure them that everything's going to be ok and this is just how we do it.

​When should parents see a decrease in separation anxiety?

Usually by about age three you'll see a decrease in that initial separation anxiety and that's usually just because of lots of repetition and lots of practice.

When should parents be concerned about their child's anxiety?

When the child's worries and fears really interfere with the parents day-to-day functioning. When it really becomes unreasonable to able to function as a family and for parents to do what they need to do to raise their children and to maintain their lifestyle. In other words, when the child's fears and worries are driving the house and not the parents.​​

Separation anxiety can affect children at 18 to 24 months of age.  Julie Almquist, M.S., LIMHP, Therapist at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health, offers tips on how parents can help their child with separating transitions, how parents can handle nighttime separations and when separation anxiety should decrease in children.