Separation anxiety is hard on both child and parent. As a parent, you want to meet the needs of your child, but every once in a while, you need a break! There are things that you can do to help your child overcome this anxiety.
First of all, it is important to realize that separation anxiety is a normal part of child development. It usually starts around 9 months of age and then fades over time, usually by 18 months. In some children it lingers, indicating the need for intervention. In normal childhood development, separation anxiety between 9-18 months indicates healthy attachment to the parent. The child quickly calms down as soon as the parent returns.
Having a consistent, predictable schedule can help reduce anxiety. Kids in general, but especially children with high anxiety, thrive on predictable routines. They get into comfortable patterns of behavior and know what is expected of them. When parents have routines and a child recognizes a pattern such as being left with grandma on Friday nights, they become more adjusted with each time that it happens.
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Modeling healthy coping skills such as taking a few slow deep breaths before responding when frustrated, walking away from a triggering situation long enough to gain control, and talking through frustrations can help children implement the same skills. It can also be helpful to verbalize self-talk and talk yourself down from a triggering situation so your children can learn how to do it as well.
On to Hide and Seek to help with separation anxiety. You are basically triggering anxiety in a play format and then quickly relieving the anxiety. It would be best to start with a very easy hiding place where the child can find you without difficulty, then slowly make it more difficult. You want to make it difficult enough to trigger some level of anxiety, but not so much that your child will have a meltdown. If it is taking a while for the child to find you, it may be good to give some verbal cues to help them, especially early on.
Think about what happens in a child’s brain as you play. First, mom is with me and all is well. Next, mom disappears and I get scared. Mom then reappears and all is well again. You are normalizing your absence and pushing the bounds of your child’s ability to cope each time you hide. When the child hides, they are telling themselves that they are going to be OK even if they can’t see mom (or dad, whoever the adult is). This game also helps to build trust. You say that you are going to find your child and you don’t stop until you do. You make sure that you are found by your child each time.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara has some great ideas on her infographics for ways to offer comfort to children suffering from separation anxiety:
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