How To Ease Separation Anxiety In Toddlers
Separation anxiety in toddlers is very normal, however, it can still evoke worry and guilt in mums having to leave a crying baby behind. The good news is, it usually dissipates with age and careful strategies which we will discuss in the 5 step process.
Regardless of whether you are a first time mum, or a seasoned parent, separation anxiety in toddlers is often a source of great anxiety and stress. As a parent, you always want the best for your child, so it can be heartbreaking to see your little one crying as you leave, or even getting upset when being held by others. Because there is a misconception that children should just easily transition to new experiences and to new people, parents often (incorrectly) blame themselves for their child’s separation anxiety and this causes further anxiety and guilt down the track. These emotions can make the separation process even more difficult and drawn out for both you and your toddler or baby.
The good news is there are easy to follow steps you can implement to aid your child through transitions. This process will also be much smoother if your understand your child’s temperament, which we will go into a bit more detail in the 5 step process below.
5 steps for how to overcome separation anxiety in toddlers
Step 1: Getting to Know Your Child’s Temperament
You may be thinking “what does this have to do with easing my child’s separation anxiety?” Well, it is actually the key piece of the puzzle that not many people talk about and yet it is SO… helpful to parents when going through separation anxiety in toddlers. Research tells us that approximately 65% of children fall into 1 of 3 temperament characteristics. Slow-to-warm Up, Easy, Feisty. Each one of these responds very differently to new environments and new people. If you work out your child’s temperament, you with then be able to assess the best way to deal with separation anxiety based on your child’s temperament.
Each of these 3 temperaments responds uniquely to new environments
Slow to warm up
The slow to warm up child takes time to adjust to new environments and people. They need lots of security and attachment to parents. These babies do not like to be held by people they do not know. They need to feel comfortable and then they will relax and be the life of the party. These children need gradual introductions and repeated similar introductions. So ensuring your child is left with the same carer in childcare for instance, will make the transition MUCH smoother. Also, this child is better off attending childcare a few days a week, rather than one day a week. The reason for this is that by the time ‘day-care day’ returns you toddler will have forgotten about it again and the separation anxiety will once again begin.
The feisty child needs rules, boundaries and structure. So, this child will want to be very clear of the process of transition. Keeping the routine and simple and clear as possible will really help this child to adjust. For instance, going through the same motions in the morning on your way to childcare, or when leaving your child with a babysitter will help your toddler to feel comfortable about the separation process. You may also have a routine after childcare pick up which you can maintain consistently for your child to feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible.
The easy child will find new environments much less stressful and will adapt to new environment with greater ease. With an easy temperament there may be signs of separation anxiety, however these will typically only last for a short period of time. They will only represent in times of extreme stress or uncertainty.
Step 2: Ensure the care in which you are leaving your child meets the 4 Quadrant ‘Perfect Mum Book‘ Rules
In order for you to feel OK about leaving your child crying in someone else’s care, you need to feel comfortable about where you are leaving your child. In the Book Perfect Mum, I talk a lot about the 4 essential parenting quadrants which centre around four critical questions:
Is Your Child
When you can answer “yes” confidently to these 4 questions, you are much more comfortable about the emotional aspects associated with separation anxiety in your toddler. For instance, when you receive images throughout the day from your day-care centre showing your child is happily playing, you feel comfortable that question 3 (is my child happy) has been satisfied.
Step 3: Repetition is the Key
Your child will feel much more comfortable being left within an environment that feels comfortable. Whilst it may always be his/her preference to stay with “mummy’, your child will find the separation much easier if you ensure things are kept relatively similar and the environment is not completely alien. When beginning a new childcare arrangements, start slowly if possible. Begin by attending the centre together a few times, then leave your child for 1-2 hours and eventually build up to the required day-care length of time. Repeating the process several times will help your child to feel safe and secure being left somewhere without you (quadrants 1 and 2 above).
Step 4: The Comforter
Choose a special toy your child can bring from home to provide familiar comfort throughout the day. You can also select a special toy your child likes at childcare. You can talk about how exciting it will be to see your child’s special toy again when you arrive and go together to collect the toy. This little routine can give your child something special to look forward to and because you have been talking about it, the toy provides a comforting reminder of you if they begin to miss you throughout the day.
Step 5: Avoid dragging out the drop off
This step is probably the toughest for mothers experiencing separation anxiety in toddlers. As a mother, you want to leave your child in care feeling happy. However, the longer you stay to comfort your child, the harder it is for your child to separate and make the transition. Quick and comforting goodbyes are usually best. Your child then becomes accustomed to this routine and will not draw out the tears begging you to stay. You can tell your child “mummy is coming back to pick you up” when you leave. Then when you collect your child, repeat this again – “see mummy came back to pick you up”. This helps your child to feel secure and to trust that everything is going to be OK. Then at pick up, if you’d like to stay a bit longer to play with some toys together or read books, this is the time when you can take as long as you like to leave.
Following these 5 steps to easing separation anxiety in toddlers will really help to make transitions into other people’s care much smoother. There may be tears from time to time, especially if your child is feeling unwell or overtired. However, you know the tears will only last for a very short period of time. It is important to note, though, if your child continues to feel anxious, or the anxiety is getting worse, it’s time to intervene. Talk to the carer/s about what might be happening. Assess whether the childcare arrangement is suitable for your child. Further, don’t be afraid to make a change if you feel it’s in the best interest of your child.