Separation Anxiety is a part and parcel of most toddlers. As a parent, you may have to occasionally take leave of your toddler for a certain period of time. This can be for a short while, such as an hour or so, for your grocery shopping. Or it can be for as long as eight to ten hours if you are returning to work. As a toddler, your child maybe worried irrespective of the length of time you remain away from her. Her young mind does not realise that this separation is not permanent. She is worried about the separation from you as she feels that it will deprive her of a feeling of security. How long separation anxiety lasts depends on the toddler and the parent's reaction to the anxiety.
Why Some Toddlers Suffer from Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is displayed in many cases by toddlers who
- Have never been in company of anyone else other than their parents
- Experience stress because of factors such as shifting to a new home or arrival of a sibling
- Are shy in front of people other than parents
Although separation anxiety is a good sign of a warm bond developing between the parent and the toddler, many parents find it tough to cope with this problem.
Ways to Ease Separation Anxiety
As a caring parent, you can help your toddler overcome the phase of separation anxiety. Some steps you can take in this regard are:
- Play a game of hide and seek with your toddler often. Encourage her to find out where you are hiding. This will create an assurance in her that you will once again be back even if you "disappear".
- When you first leave your toddler under the care of a babysitter, grand parents or other members, make the time you are away from her as short as possible. Remember to follow this even if you change baby sitters often.
- Never leave her without telling her. This can leave her more worried and insecure.
- If you are leaving her in a day care because you plan to return to work, opt for a centre near your work place. It helps a lot if the visiting hours of the day care match your break timings. Visit her during your break hours without fail, at least during the initial days.
- Give your toddler a comfort object before you leave. She will find this soothing.
- Hug and kiss her a "Bye-bye" before you leave. Keep it short and do not extend the leave taking process.
- Try and distract her with some activity before you leave so that she will not be affected when you take leave of her.
- Ask the baby sitter or care taker to arrive at least half an hour before you leave. This reduces the chances of your toddler associating her arrival with your departure.
- Set up a routine for your toddler every day.
- Spend at least an hour with your toddler before the baby sitter arrives.
- Promise her that you will return back to her. If you are likely to be late, call your baby sitter and ask her to hold the phone for your toddler. If she can hold the phone herself, ask the baby sitter to give her the phone. Talk to her for sometime. This makes her happy and also relaxes you.
- Be patient and calm when you address your toddler's anxiety. Do not tease her or get angry with her.
- Remain sympathetic to your toddler's fears but do not deviate from your plans. Do not give into her cries and pleading.
- Do not tell her that you will miss her when you are away. This may make her miss you back in return.
- Avoid showing your anxiety of separation in front of your toddler. These can enhance her anxiety levels.
- Assure her that you will play your favourite game with her when you are back. Remember to keep your word.
- Encourage her to wave cheerfully to you from the window. Even if she is crying, smile as you wave back to her.
When to Seek Doctor's Help to Cope With Separation Anxiety Problem
Your toddler may require medical evaluation and intervention if she shows any of the following traits as a result of separation anxiety:
- Symptoms of panic or worry such as vomiting or shortness of breath when you are stepping out
- Nightmares about being left alone
- Worried if someone will harm her in the absence of a parent
- Appears to be withdrawn and keeps to herself
However in most cases, separation anxiety is a passing phase and does not need medical intervention. With patience and dedicated effort, you can change the "Please do not go" situation into a "Will be back soon" situation.