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How to Help Your Child with Separation Anxiety
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It is common for children to experience separation anxiety or homesickness when they are away from their parents or caregivers. Often this emerges at around 5 to 7 months of age, and is thought to coincide with their development of an attachment with a particular caregiver.
Children may experience separation anxiety or homesickness related to anything from transitioning to daycare, full-time school, or even due to a time when they need to be away from their parent or caregiver for a couple of hours or even a few days or weeks at a time.
While it may not be possible to completely avoid separation anxiety or homesickness, there are things you can do to ease your child into a separation from you, or at the very least, reduce some of the anxiety they experience from being away from you.
This week, we asked our parenting contributors to share their insights in to how they help ease their child into a separation from them, and how they help them deal with any associated separation anxiety or homesickness.
Dona from Nurtured Mama
A life coach, writer and artist shared her tips…
When my daughter was first talking, we read several books about mamas who leave and come back to ease her fears when I dropped her off at daycare.
Our favorite was The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn. I love that this story gives a concrete ritual that helps ease the transition, but also that it recognizes that leaving can be hard for Mommy, too.
Now that my daughter is a little older (6), we talk about her feelings when she’s feeling clingy, and I make sure to offer more one on one time when I see that pattern happening. And she still sometimes asks me to kiss her palm when I’m leaving and she’s having a hard time saying goodbye!
Melissa from Beyond Mommying
Ballerina, and homeschooling mommy to 4 shared her tips…
The one thing I’ve always tried to instill in my children when it comes to having to be apart is the simplest idea: Mommy always comes back. No matter where I am going or how long I am going to be away, I want my children to know and rest assured that I will eventually come back.
Whenever they get sad about me having to go, I tell them “Mommy always comes back” and ask them “Has mommy ever not come back before?” and when they say “no” I reassure them “see, nothing to worry about.
Mommy always comes back.”
A couple of strategies from the Oh Beehave! library include:
A trial run can be handy for helping your child become used to short periods of separation from you.
For example, if you will be taking your child to day care, speak with the day care and ask if you can spend some time there with your child before you leave them for a longer period of time.
Give them some time to get comfortable and play. If they appear to be settled and occupied, leave for a few moments (e.g. 5 mins or so) and then come back. Repeat this exercise a few times, gradually increasing the length of time you are away.
Return to play with your child until it is time to leave.
During this trial run, your child has the opportunity to become comfortable with their surroundings and familiar with the caregivers.
Another important part of this “trial run” is that your child starts to understand that even though you have left you will always return.
This strategy is most useful for a school age child in the content of separation anxiety related to school refusal.
Quietly observe your child at school or day care if possible (e.g. before pick up or after drop off) with the aim of seeing them interact with other kids.
This will help give you some insight and prepare you for having a conversation with them about their experience at school.
For example, if they say that they don’t enjoy school, you can say that you saw them playing with other kids (name the kids where possible), and that it looked like they were having fun.
This might also help to open up a conversation about what they enjoyed at school that day (which switches their focus from being away from you, to the enjoyment they get out of being at school or day care).
Inclusive Decision Making
This strategy is most useful if your child experiences home sickness associated with being away from home for a period of time when you are not present.
If you need to leave your child with someone else (e.g. while you are away for work), let them be part of the decision.
While they cannot decide whether or not you will need to leave them to be cared for by another person, they can decide, for example where to stay. You can give them a choice, such as
would you prefer to stay with Nanna and Gramps or Aunty Carol?”
Feeling like they have some choice and control over your being away can help reduce their feelings of homesickness.
If you are looking for more strategies on homesickness, separation anxiety or school refusal check out the strategies section of our website!
Until next time, we would love to hear your thoughts on how you help your child/ren ease into separations and deal with separation anxiety or homesickness.
Let us know in the comments below (if you have a website, feel free to include the link) 😊
If you have a topic you would like us to include, a tip you want to share, or you would like to feature as a contributor on “Who’s The Expert” get in touch (let us know if you would like to receive email alerts!) or join our facebook group!
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My mom always said she was a bit disappointed that I, her first baby, never had any separation anxiety, was totally fine being held by any stranger, and would RUN the second she dropped me off at nursery–to find new friends and new toys. She did get the opposite with my baby sister, though, who to this day doesn’t usually stray far from Mommy’s side!
These are all great tips! My son had a lot of separation anxiety when he was younger but he’s getting a lot better with it now.
Oh, a trial run is such a good idea!