As a parent, you’re probably familiar with the stage of separation anxiety that many young children experience. Psychology Today refers to separation anxiety as excessive fear or worry about separation from home or an attachment figure. Young children with separation anxiety may be reluctant to leave their parent’s sides if they leave the house or even if they go into a separate room. This anxiety is often displayed through crying, clinginess or short tantrums.
While separation anxiety is a normal development stage that most children under the age of two go through, it can be prolonged for some children. For the 3-5% of children who develop separation anxiety disorder, their anxiety could persist into elementary school or later. With a global pandemic added into the mix, some children may be even more anxious about leaving their parent or caregiver’s side.
Separation Anxiety & COVID-19
During COVID-19, it’s likely that you’re at home more often than you normally would be. Since your child may be more used to your consistent presence in the recent months, their need for attachment may have increased. Or perhaps you or your partner are an essential worker and not at home as much as before. Extended absences can also make it difficult for a child to cope knowing that their parent is present less often.
Five Tips for Handling Separation Anxiety
First Determine if It’s a Normal Reaction
If your child is going through the typical age of separation anxiety, it may feel worrisome, but it’s also completely normal. In that case, you can follow these tips and also take comfort in knowing that this period your child is going through will pass. However, if their reactions seem to escalate, you might consider devoting more focus to remedying the issue.
Prepare Your Child For Separation
You can prepare your child for the inevitable separations by talking to them about it. Instead of trying to slip away, it can help to vocally reassure your child that you will be back and that your absence is only temporary. You can also prepare your child by practicing with short periods of separation at first.
Approach a Meltdown in a Calm Manner
The more calm you are in the middle of a meltdown, the easier it will be for you to de-escalate it. It will help to have a calm voice and demeanor to show your child that you are not also anxious or upset about the situation. If they see that you are calm, they are more likely to be calm as well.
Try Not to Stall When You Do Have to Leave
It’s important to let your child know when you have to leave and reassure your child that you will return. However, staying behind for too long to comfort them may make their clinginess worse.
Give Your Child a Comfort Item
For small children, having an item that is comforting and that reminds them of their parent or caregiver might help with the separation. Perhaps there is a stuffed animal or toy that your child loves and that can help with comforting them when you are gone.
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If you are dealing with concerning child behaviors, rest assured that you are not alone. To learn more about how counseling in Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, Bend and all of Oregon via video telehealth can help your child, request an appointment with Oregon Counseling today.