What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a normal part of development. It is most common between 6 months and 2 years of age. Sometimes changes can cause anxiety, such as:
- a new babysitter or child care
- a new sibling
- moving to a new place
- stress at home
Leaving a child with a babysitter or in child care can be stressful for both parent and child. For the child, the fear related to the parent leaving his or her sight is called separation anxiety. Most parents also have separation anxiety to some degree when they have to leave their children.
How can I prevent separation anxiety?
If child care will be provided outside the home:
- Get your child used to someone else taking care of him for short periods of time while you are still nearby. Next, leave your home for short periods of time. Gradually build up to the amount of time you will be gone during a typical day. This helps you, as well as your child, get used to the idea of being apart.
- Visit the child care provider ahead of time with your child. Help your child feel comfortable. Stay with your child part or all of the first day or so.
- Try to keep the same child care provider. It helps your child feel more secure.
If your child has trouble when you drop her off at child care or with a babysitter there are several things you can do to help.
- Do not talk about the separation beforehand. This does not help and may make separating more difficult.
- Plan ahead so that you can separate quickly. Have all of your child's things together in one bag so that you won't drag out the separation.
- When it is time to go, leave as quickly and as matter-of-factly as possible. Say goodbye and give your child a quick kiss. Do not try to sneak away when the child is not looking.
- Let your child know who will pick him up and when. This reduces your child's fears about being abandoned. Keep your promises. Come back when you say you are going to.
- When you pick your child up, don't be overly emotional. It's OK to act glad to see her, but don't start crying and hugging her too much.
- Generally the way children handle separation reflects how their parents handle it. Parents usually do not cause separation anxiety, but they can make things worse or better. It helps if you stay calm and reassuring.
Some amount of separation anxiety is normal, but you should talk with your healthcare provider if your child:
- has panic symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath or panic attacks when you leave
- has nightmares about separation
- is afraid to sleep alone
- worries all the time about being lost or kidnapped or going places without you
Written by E. Christophersen, PhD, author of "Beyond Discipline: Parenting That Lasts a Lifetime.".
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-30
Last reviewed: 2011-01-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes
available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical
evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.