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True separation anxiety that occurs in infants and toddlers is different than separation anxiety disorder. We are exploring the “normal” stages of true separation anxiety that children experience. This is simply a natural stage of child development. Like other stages this will pass.
Most babies can experience separation anxiety about 12 months to 18 months. Sometimes it comes on quickly and takes parents by surprise. It seems like they are happy and friendly with everyone and then one day Mom is theone person who they want or the only who can calm their nerves.
Many babies also experience separation anxiety when they are placed in the crib and sense they are alone. It is best in this situation to go in and offer some comfort, while the child stays in the crib. Say goodnight and leave again. They will outgrow this much quicker if it is handled in this manner.
When the toddlers are older and you are leaving them with others it is important to resist the desire to sneak out. It is important to say good bye with confidence. The child will feel the confidence and it will help them learn to deal with the separation. It’s important to tell the child where you are going and that you will return. The conversation should be short and light- hearted. This gives the caregiver information so they can answer “Where’s Mommy” and reinforcement the information. “She had to go to an appointment and she will be back.”
It is helpful if the babysitter can arrive a little early to help the child feel a little more secure and recognize the sitter belongs in the house. An experienced babysitter has dealt with separation anxiety before and has coping skills for the child. They will form a compromise of sorts and the child will make it. It becomes easier the more they experience the good bye.
Many couples find that saying goodbye and going to the basement or bedroom for 15 minutes and the reappearing and greeting them helps with transitions. Good bye becomes a term they are familiar with it and the missing party always comes back.
Toddlers will cling to the signs of separation anxiety long after the real anxiety is gone if they feel rewarded for the behavior. So the goal is tough love with good bye. Say it right and quick and really leave. Prolonging the tantrum is not helpful to the parent, the babysitter or the child.
Some personalities just don’t mesh. If your child only displays this behavior with one babysitter or one day care, try other options. It’s not a judgment. It is simply a preference of the child.