5 Mistakes that Will Make Your Child's Separation Anxiety Worse

Avoid these mistakes which will only reinforce your child's separation anxiety.
Ariel Skelley / Blend Images / Getty Images

It’s normal for children to experience separation anxiety. It usually begins around 6 or 8 months of age, and tends to last until a child is between 2 ½ and 4 years old.

But sometimes, separation lasts much longer. In fact, it can last through high school for some kids.

The way you respond to your child’s separation anxiety will either help him learn to tolerate distress, or make his anxiety worse. Avoid these five mistakes that could make your child’s separation anxiety worse.

1. Sneaking Away When Your Child’s Not Looking

Sometimes, well-meaning parents attempt a stealth exit in hopes their child won’t notice. But, sneaking away from daycare when your child’s not looking isn’t a good idea.

If your child can never be certain when you’re going to make a quick exit, he’s likely to be more anxious all the time. Even when you’re at home together, he may assume you’ve left the premises every time you step out of the room.

2. Giving Extended Good-Byes

Turning a good-bye into a 30 minute event will only make your child’s agony drag on. And if you keep agreeing to “one more kiss” or “one more minute playing” each time your child whines, begs, or cries, you’ll only be rewarding these behaviors, which will make them continue. Over time, they can grow worse.

Extended good-byes also send the wrong message – it reinforces to your child that parting is very difficult. It can make your child think that it’s hard for you as well – which will lead him to think saying good-bye is a bad thing.

3. Minimizing Your Child’s Emotions

Saying things like, “You shouldn’t get so upset every time I leave,” dismisses your child’s emotions. Telling him his feelings are wrong will cause more problems.

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and tell him it’s OK to be sad or scared. Make it clear that it’s how he handles those emotions that matter.

So while it’s normal to feel angry at you for leaving, hitting isn’t acceptable.

4. Being Vague or Untruthful About When You’ll be Reunited

Telling your child you’ll be back “later” won’t be helpful. Kids need to know what time you plan to return in terms they can understand. So whether you say, “I’ll be back right after lunch,” or, “I’ll see you after your second nap,” give your child some sort of time frame.

It’s important not to lie about when you’ll be back. Saying, “I’ll be right back,” when you’re planning to be gone for 10 hours will confuse and frustrate your child. Make sure your child knows the plan – and tell him the truth – even when it might not be what he wants to hear.

5. Not Giving Your Child an Opportunity to Practice Tolerating Distress

Letting your child quit preschool because he cries when you drop him off, or choosing to stick around at friend’s birthday party because your child is clinging to your leg, may be tempting. But separation anxiety won’t get better unless your child has an opportunity to practice being away from you.

 

Schedule play dates, trips to Grandpa’s house, and other fun opportunities for your child to have fun without you. And when your child is away, resist the urge to call and talk to him or to stop by and visit with him. Seeing you or hearing your voice may remind him that he misses you and could cause another meltdown.

Continue Reading