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Separation Anxiety in Children

By Julie Almquist, M.S.

Separation anxiety in children is a part of childhood development.

Separation anxiety in children is a part of childhood development. Separation anxiety can begin in babies as early as six or seven months, when infants begin to familiarize themselves with their surroundings, including mom and dad’s face and voice. The anxiety increases between 18-24 months. This is the first time when toddlers begin to independently explore their environment; but it’s also the first time they experience that mom and dad are not always at their side.  Here are some tips for parents to help their children with separation anxiety.

Tips to Lessen Separation Anxiety:

  • Do not discuss the separation before it occurs.
  • Talk about what a big boy or girl they are for going to (daycare, school, etc).
  • Make the journey fun.
  • When it comes time to do so, leave as quickly and as matter-of-factly as possible.
  • Set up times to practice separating. Arrange to drop your child off at a friend's or relative's house several times each week for a short time.
  • When you pick your child up, don't be overly emotional.

The way children handle separation is a direct reflection of how their parents handle it. Do well and your child will do much better.

Separation at Night

Separation at night is just as scary as daytime separation for your child, and for some children more so. You know that you are within hearing distance from your child, but she does not. Develop a bedtime routine. Read a bedtime story, sing a song, take a bath or say goodnight to siblings. Routines and schedules are comforting for kids. Keep the hour before bedtime as calm as possible. If your child does get upset after being put to bed, keep your visits brief and she will learn to fall asleep on her own.

When Anxiety Continues

Separation anxiety is very real for children 6 months until about 3 years of age. If your child remains inconsolable when dropped off at daycare, re-evaluate the sitter or facility and make sure it’s the best fit for your family. If your child has a difficult time transitioning to pre-school or kindergarten, work with the teacher to help with the transition. Although separation anxiety is normal for babies between 9 and 18 months, you should consult your child's doctor if his anxiety becomes so problematic that it interferes with your family’s day to day functioning.