Separation Anxiety: How To Deal With It
Parents can find it stressful when children don’t skip happily into school, nursery, or childcare. More often it’s a lot tougher on us parents, and children will be ‘absolutely fine’ (the phrase our nursery teacher used when I came to pick my girls up after screaming ‘abdabs’ in the morning!) but no one likes to see their child upset. On the other hand, the first time they can’t wait to leave and head off without a backwards glance, you may find yourself suddenly pining for the clingy phase – at least you know they love you when they are wrapped around your ankles with a vice-like grip!
It is widely acknowledged that children benefit from developing and maintaining those relationships which ‘ground’ them and that having secure attachments enables them (once the clingy phase is over) to be confident enough to explore their environment much more widely than children who are not securely attached are willing to do. In other words, once a child feels securely attached, they have the confidence to branch out on their own, because they don’t need to keep checking that the care-giver has not left them.
Research into this topic has lead to a change in working practices by a range of organisations including NHS, Social Services and education. For example, young children have been shown to recover from major illnesses/operations much more quickly if they are not suffering from separation anxiety. This shows that a bit of clinginess is an important part of development and should not be dismissed lightly. However, it can also be crippling if it becomes so extreme that other adults are unable to comfort a child, as it can increase stress levels and reduce support options, which can in turn impact on careers and other family members.
The next time your toddler cries for you and won’t go willingly to another adult, try to stop being annoyed, and be grateful that you have a lovely strong bond. In such a situation, the best thing to do is give THEM a big hug, reassure them that you’ll be back soon (start practicing with small separations such as just going out of the room) and then leave. Don’t prolong the ‘goodbye’ phase as this can develop into a strategy that the child uses to delay your departure. Come back when you said you’d come back and give them a great big hug when you return. Then make the separations longer and he should soon get used to the idea that you will come back. It is believed fear of abandonment is innate and that in order for a child to grow out of the clingy phase, he or she needs to feel sure that you love him/her and that you’ll return.
If the problem persists for more than a few months at a time (don’t worry if it recurs during periods of transition such as moving house/starting school), then it may have become an ingrained habit and need some more focussed strategies in dealing with it.
With all the lonely people out there, try and battle on through the clingy phase and be grateful that someone loves you, even if sometimes you wished they didn’t love you quite so much!
- Pre-school to primary school
- Developmental milestones for a 4 year old
- Balancing a child’s play diet
- Attention seeking and jealousy
- Dealing with bullying
- Developing a sense of identity
Tags: anxiety, Routine, separation anxiety
Categorised in: parenting advice
This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer