Separation anxiety: 6 tips for dealing with a clingy child

separation anxietyMy niece Rose’s daughter Jolianne will be two in a month. Last week Rose was telling me that she’s been finding Joli especially difficult to deal with lately: she can’t leave the room without Joli throwing a fit, and never mind being left alone with the babysitter… I know from experience that this is a phase that many parents, if not most, go through at one point or another.

In some ways it’s flattering to know that you’re the centre of your child’s universe. But it can also be a great burden, as any mother who has tried to get even the simplest of chores done while dragging a clingy child strapped to her leg will know. And you’re not the only one who is suffering from this: a child who lacks autonomy and is too dependent on her mother will be stifled in her growth.

While some toddlers will never show signs of separation anxiety, most will develop it around 8 or 9 months of age, and in some cases it’ll continue passed their second birthday. During this difficult transitional age you’ll need to find a middle ground between being too present and not being present enough, between giving your child all the support needed and providing too little. Here are six tips to help you and your child find that balance:

1. Make sure your last minutes are quality time

Before you leave, make sure your last minutes are spent together. Commit to a small activity such as playing a short game, fixing a snack or reading a book. Pace yourself so that you have enough time to get things together before you leave. Take it slow so your child doesn’t feel that you’re anxious or rushing, making the transition much harder than it needs to be. If you are in a hurry, avoid communicating that stress to your child.

2. Give the kid something to do

A large part of separation anxiety comes from your toddler focusing all of her attention on you, so it makes sense that she becomes uneasy when you suddenly disappear. Take out an engaging game or use a special “transition” toy to play with, and then pass it to the babysitter when it’s time for you to leave.

3. Leave her with a memento

A small something of yours may help your toddler feel like she’s holding onto your presence. This can be something simple such as a teddy bear that’s lightly scented with your perfume, hair elastics, or a t-shirt. A word of caution: while this can help soothe some children with separation anxiety, it can also have the opposite effect and actually make matters worse. Try it. It’s the only way to find out.

4. Keep it casual

A casual goodbye is best when you’re leaving so that your toddler can begin to understand that it’s not that big of a deal. Your child is smart, so a long goodbye tips her off that you may be gone for a while. Even if you’re going to be gone for an extended period of time, you need to show her that everything will be okay and that you’ll be back soon.

5. See you later, alligator

A lighthearted farewell ritual will comfort your child: create a special handshake or phrase and practice it each time you have to leave one another.

6. Don’t shrug off your child’s insecurities

This tip is probably the most important. Admittedly, sometimes it will be hard to not lose your temper, but always react with understanding, confidence, and patience. Don’t tease your child or show signs of anger when she’s acting clingy.

Leaving a child with separation anxiety can be as difficult for you as it is for her, but be reassured: it’s just a phase. What are your tips for dealing with your child’s seperation anxiety?


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