When you drop your toddler off at daycare, does your little one cry and scream in frustration every day? If so, it’s likely that your little one has toddler separation anxiety. According to Fran Walfish, Psy.D., children declare their independence when they start walking. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to separate from you completely yet.
When you aren’t in your toddler’s presence, it’s common for your child to feel a sudden urgency to be with you. That’s because children at this age-long for the security and familiarity they get from their parents.
Tips for dealing with toddler separation anxiety
Your toddler may fear that you won’t come back, or that something bad will happen to you while you’re away. In this article, we’ll discuss a few ways to help you handle toddler separation anxiety.
Practice being away from your child
Some experts recommend gradually preparing your toddler for the time that will be spent without you. Begin by practicing simple separations at home, like reading a book while your child plays quietly on his or her own. Then move on to spending a longer amount of time apart in more stimulating environments, like parks or museums. You can also slowly increase the amount of time you spend away from your toddler, but also make sure your little one still has plenty of chances to see you throughout the day.
Don’t show that you’re worried about your child’s anxiety
It’s also important for your child not to see you become visibly anxious, even though the separation may be difficult for you as well. This may mean avoiding making eye contact with your little one when you leave, even if your child is crying.
Create expectations with your child, and add surprises
As the parent, it’s important for you to display a matter-of-fact attitude about the separation, and reassure your child that you will return later in the day. It can also help if you send your child in with a favorite toy or a special item from home. But make sure not to bring it out at pick-up time. Instead, wait until mealtime or when your child is with the teacher before revealing your surprise.
Create a routine to help establish familiarity
It’s important for you and your toddler to get into the habit of following a consistent daily schedule. If you drop off your toddler at daycare every day at the same time and engage in the same routine, your little one will have an easier time learning that panic is not necessary whenever you’re not around. The earlier children learn how to cope effectively with their own anxiety, the easier it will be for them as they get older.
Furthermore, as difficult as it may be, don’t give in to children’s demands to stay home or pick them up early every time they ask. That will only further reinforce their anxiety and set you up for continued difficulty with separation in the future.
What to avoid doing when dealing with your toddler’s separation anxiety
There are some things you should avoid doing when grappling with your toddler’s separation anxiety. Here is a couple:
Avoid taking your child with you every time you leave home or checking in on them
If possible, try to avoid taking children with you every time you leave home, or letting them contact you frequently from daycare. This can cause them to perpetuate the belief that they need to be with you at all times. If you don’t avoid doing these things, your child may believe that he or she doesn’t have a place in the world without you.
Don’t give in to demands to pick them up early
It’s also important to avoid giving in to children’s demands to pick them up from daycare early every time they ask. That will only encourage your child to engage in escape behavior each time you leave. Additionally, if you let children skip daycare once, they are likely to start wondering why they have to go there in the first place.
The bottom line: think of separation anxiety as a passing phase
Most importantly, keep in mind that your toddler’s separation anxiety is a passing phase. In time, it should decrease naturally as your little one gets used to being with other people during the day. As difficult as it might be, try not to take toddlers’ clinginess personally, and know that you’re doing everything right for them.
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