Separation anxiety is a normal occurrence in early childhood. It is when a child becomes upset upon being separated from a parent or caregiver; especially when the family member is suddenly out of sight of the child. For young children, crying, clinginess and emotional or physical outbursts are all healthy reactions to separation; however the anxiety can look or feel quite different from child to child.
It usually starts at around six to eight months of age and can last until about two and a half to four years of age. It can vary from child to child; as some children are naturally more sensitive and emotional than other children. Separation anxiety reflects the child’s attempts to hold on to what is safe in a sometimes scary or overwhelming world. It does settle down as the child grows older and more confident!
For young babies around 6 months of age, children have not yet developed a separate sense of self; babies see their parents or primary carers as part of themselves and feel a part of them is missing when they are apart. Older children have developed a sense of self and therefore have a greater understanding their parents or carers will return.
Other factors to consider is the age at which your child starts childcare, the amount of time you spend apart from your child (leaving your child with family members while you go up to the shops or to appointments), how much interaction your child has with people that are not family members and even whether your child has siblings to model certain behaviors. One can also look at whether or not in the child’s past they have had a negative experience with being separated from a parent or carer.
Sometimes parents can also have anxiety related to leaving their child; this can in turn affect how a child responds in unfamiliar environments or with people they have not had many interactions with. Children are very observant and perceptive; if they can see mum or dad becoming worried or anxious in an environment, the child may perceive that there is something to be worried about.
It is important to manage the balance between supporting and reassuring your child (upon dropping them off at a place they are not yet feeling connected to) with allowing children to have opportunities to practice managing their own emotions and allowing others to support them on that journey.
At Aurora Early Childcare Education, our educators are extremely experienced with assisting children to feel calm and supported when they are experiencing separation anxiety. Please help us to support your family by giving your child a big hug and kiss and telling them that you will see them later in the day. You can also leave a special comfort toy from home for them to snuggle with after you leave. Please don’t linger as sometimes this sets up false expectations for your child that you will be staying with them that day. Let our staff know if you require more support with managing your emotions at drop off times. We are here to support you as much as we are your child!