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Separation Anxiety in Children


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. 

  • Separation Anxiety

    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.​​

Family and Parenting Behavioral Health