Tears and tantrum filled goodbyes are most common in a child’s earliest of years. Typically around his or her first birthday a child starts to develop separation anxiety issues, such as, getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else! Even though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling for the parents! Trying to understand what your little one is going through and also having some coping strategies will help alleviate those times when you do have to leave your child.
How Separation Anxiety Develops
Oh for the love of babies!!! I thoroughly enjoyed the days of being an infant teacher and being able to bond with those cuties! Something I have noticed over the years is that babies adapt very well to other people and to their caregivers! Parents probably feel more nervous about being separated than infants do! Younger infants know that you, Mom or Dad, are the ones who meet their needs. When they don’t see you because you have gone into the kitchen, to them it means you have gone away. Most won’t understand the concept of time yet so they don’t know when you will be back. Because of this your little one will do whatever it takes to prevent this from happening. Infants, after spending time with people, will adjust easily as long as all of their needs are being met. Sometime between 4-7 months, babies establish a sense of object permanence and start to learn that things and people exist even when they are out of sight. This is when the little ones LOVE to start playing the drop and pick up game-and expecting an adult to pick up anything they drop over the sides of the high chair (which, once retrieved, gets dropped again and again )
Stress Can Trigger The Anxiety
For others, certain life stressors can trigger feelings of anxiety such as a new childcare sitaution, a new sibling, moving to a new place etc…Older children understand the effect that tantrums and tears has on parents. If for example, you come running back into the room every time your child cries and then stay there longer or cancel your plans altogether, your little one will constantly use this tactic to avoid separation. Being in the infant room I totally understand how hard it is to leave your little one when they are upset! But giving the other caregiver the oppurtunity to bond and to let them cuddle and love on your little one will help develop a bond and know that they are safe and loved when getting dropped off at school!
So how long does this last? It definitely varies from child to child and depends on how long the child has stayed at home with only Mom or only Dad. I think a lot of it also has to do with how the parents and child respond in these situations. Depending on the tempermant of your child it can last from being an infant all the way to early elementary school years. If separation anxiety occurs when your child is older at school it can be a good indicator that something else is bothering them. For example, I remeber in 6th grade I was more “clingy” to my mom only because I was getting called on all the time during math and I wasn’t raising my hand!! HA go figure!
What A Parent Might Be Going Through
During this time, you may be going through many different emotions. It can be some what gratifying knowing that your little one has a secure attachment with mommy or daddy. You might feel guilty about taking time out for yourself, leaving your kiddo with a caregiver, or going to work. It may start to feel somewhat overwhelming the amount of attention your kiddo seems to need from you.
Always remember that your little one’s unwillingness to leave you is a good sign! Healthy attachments have developed between the both of you. Eventually your kiddo will be able to remember that you always return after you leave and that there is nothing to worry about. That will be enough comfort while you’re gone. This also gives kids a chance to develop some coping skills along with gaining some independence. Timing is everything and we need to remember to be quick and sincere when we leave. Practice being apart from time to time and also being consistent and calm during each drop off reassuring them that you’ll be back. Using concepts that they will undersdtand by explaing “how long” it will be before you come back. I think the most important thing is if we promise our kiddos anything to make sure to return as promised. This creates confidence in children that they know they can handle the time apart and expect you back!
A Brief Phase
This anxiety will pass and these feelings are only temporary! Trust your instincts when it comes to your litte one. If your child refuses to go to a particular person or you notice extra things at home like lack of sleep or appetite loss, there could be more underlying issues. For extreme cases it’s always great to chat with other moms and dads to get their feedback and experiences. If it seems to be more of an extreme case, consult your doctor for better coping strategies!
Working at a preschool I have seen many morning goodbyes that are tear filled but it only lasts a few minutes! Us teachers know that that is the last thing you take with you for the rest of the day We do our absolute best to give TONS and TONS of love and attention while mommies and daddies are gone! I hope in the future I can take my own advice and follow this. I’m not even a parent yet but I can already tell this is a hard thing that comes with the territory!!!
For more information on coping with separation anxiety you can check out this article on WebMD.