How To Reduce Separation Anxiety In Preschoolers

by Anna Kaminsky

256px-Crying_child_with_blonde_hairSeparation anxiety can be a stressful situation for both parents and children.  No one likes to hear screaming children begging for their mother or father not to leave them.  It can cause parents to feel extremely bad for leaving their child despite the screams or tantrums.  Rest assured though that separation anxiety is quite common and if your child is experiencing such it does not mean you’re a bad parent at all.

Separation anxiety is a normal milestone

Child development experts state that separation anxiety is quite normal in babies and toddlers and is a developmental milestone that many children go through.  For the little one it helps them learn that parents will not leave and never come back. They will eventually develop trust and know that mom or dad will be back to pick them up.  It may be frustrating for the parents because they have a hard time hearing and seeing their preschooler throw such a fit, but it is helpful to know that there are some things you can do to reduce separation anxiety.

A control issue

Experts assert that preschoolers who throw tantrums when mom or dad leave them are in fact trying to control the situation. They’ve gotten past the infancy separation anxiety when they thought mom or dad would disappear if they were out of sight. Preschoolers know that parents will return at some point, but they don’t want them to go so they appeal to them by crying and so on.  What you can do in this situation is come up with a goodbye ritual so that your preschooler will feel in control of that routine.  Let your child know you’ll be back later and give hugs, have a special handshake, or come up with a fun parting gesture.  You could also give your preschooler a task upon your leaving- like closing the door or putting the book bag away- so that he or she feels in control of that task. This oftentimes lessens anxiety.

The crying will stop

It is observed that children who throw tantrums or cry when parents leave will stop crying soon after the goodbye.  Normally they will stop crying in less than 15 minutes. It is a big help when the staff of the preschool or whoever is watching the child can redirect the anxious child to a new activity.  It’s also alright to just let them cry as well. They will get used to the parting and eventually should become accustomed to it. Yet, if your child doesn’t stop crying for the long time after you left and this doesn’t change over time, such behaviour could be an indication of some mental health conditions. In extreme cases of separation anxiety it is recommended to have an assessment done by a child psychologist or psychiatrist.

Role-playing

You can role-play with your child while at home in order to reduce anxiety separation for the future.  First, let your roles be as usual and really emphasize the goodbye in a positive light. Reassure your child and be dramatic about it.  Then, let your preschooler be you and you be the preschooler.  Tell them they have to go to work and they have to drop you off at preschool.  Go ahead and become anxious and fake crying and allow your child to reassure you.  See how he or she behaves.  Take turns role-playing in different situations. This helps your child to understand better the parting routine and cope with it in more positive ways.

You can reduce separation anxiety using these tips and keeping a good attitude.  Children eventually outgrow such anxiousness within a short amount of time, so rest assured that it is a temporary issue. If your child continues to struggle with such anxiety, consider seeing a professional who can help you and your child learn how to overcome separation anxiety.

Author Bio: Anna Kaminsky is a PhD student at the University of Toronto and a mother of two. She is now doing a one year internship at the psychology center, where she helps with Psychological Resources for Parentsblog (psy-ed.com) and assists child psychologists and therapists with psychological assessments and gifted testing. Anna is active on Twitter, you are welcome to read her tweets at @AnnaKaminsky1.

 

Please not that the ideas expressed in this guest post may not be the same as those of The Mommy Bunch, however, we feel the post offers some beneficial information.

photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt – wikimedia commons

5 thoughts on “How To Reduce Separation Anxiety In Preschoolers

  • January 13, 2014 at 9:28 pm
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    This is a tough one for most moms (me included). We dealt with this up through Kindergarten. It was ajoy when all 3 kids were past this stage! lol

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  • January 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm
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    Good recommendations! We had this problem with both kids, one wouldn’t let us leave until he was 7 years old and another until he was 5. My husband and I were going crazy, we felt guilty and considered ourselves bad parents. We tried everything, but only time helped with separation anxiety issues.
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  • January 24, 2014 at 5:27 pm
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    Yes, separation anxiety is very common and almost every child experiences some degree of it at some stage in their life. My wife and I had to face similar situations and i completely agree with all the tips and suggestions mentioned by the author in this article. These methods can be very effective in helping your child through this phase. An excellent read for all the parents out there.

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  • January 26, 2014 at 9:46 am
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    We had this problem for quite a while with our 5 year old and nothing seemed to work. Somebody recommended that we leave our baby with a relative or friend she knows well for 20-30 min and slowly increase the time to 1 hour. This was the only thing that helped.

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