Tips for understanding and addressing separation anxiety in children | Health - Hindustan Times
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Parenting guide: Tips for understanding and addressing separation anxiety in children

Feb 01, 2024 08:19 PM IST

Separation anxiety in children is a normal but challenging phase. Check out practical tips to ease distress and promote emotional well-being during separations.

Before we know it, children grow up and stand prepared to step into daycares and preschools. The formative years are crucial for laying a strong foundation for a child's future, and early childhood education plays a vital role in fostering their holistic development. However, for some preschoolers, the experience of being away from their home and parents can trigger intense emotions, such as fear and distress, resulting in separation anxiety. Understanding and addressing separation anxiety is crucial in ensuring a smooth transition for both children and parents. Recognising the signs, helps parents provide necessary support and comfort to their little ones.

From understanding the root causes to implementing effective coping strategies, empower yourself with the knowledge and tools to nurture your child's emotional well-being.(Pexels )
From understanding the root causes to implementing effective coping strategies, empower yourself with the knowledge and tools to nurture your child's emotional well-being.(Pexels )

Separation anxiety is a normal developmental phase that occurs in children around the age of 18 months and often gets resolved by the time the child is 3 years of age. But sometimes even children who are used to going to daycare and preschool will cling to their parents after an extended stay at home due to holidays or sickness. A child with separation anxiety worries a lot about being apart from family members or caregivers. (Also read: Tips for enhancing child mental health)

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Sibi Fakih, Lead Curriculum Development, Kangaroo Kids shared with HT Digital some practical tips for parents on identifying and overcoming separation anxiety in toddlers.

Identifying separation anxiety

a) They cling: Children may cling to their parents, unwilling to let go, even in familiar environments.

b) There are tears and tantrums: Preschoolers may cry, scream, or throw tantrums when their caregivers try to leave them.

c) Fear of separation triggers: Activities like going to school, daycare, or even leaving the house, can become anxiety triggers causing stomachaches, headaches, or nausea.

d) Difficulty in sleeping alone: Sleep disturbances, nightmares, and refusing to sleep alone in a separate room from the caregiver, are common during this phase.

"Experts believe that separation anxiety is caused by both biological and environmental factors. A child may inherit a tendency to be anxious. An imbalance of 2 chemicals in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) most likely plays a part. However, it's important to acknowledge that children can also pick up anxiety and fear from their family members and other individuals around them. Children are perceptive and can pick up on their parent's emotions," says Sibi.

She added, "If caregivers display anxious behaviour during separations, it can amplify the child's anxiety. Sudden changes in the environment or a traumatic incident like the loss of a grandparent can also intensify their feelings. While it is natural for children to experience this phase, extended duration (more than 8 weeks) and interference with typical daily activities call for careful consideration."

Addressing Separation Anxiety

Here are several strategies suggested by Sibi that parents and caregivers can implement to help their tiny tots overcome separation anxiety and help them adjust to the new setting and environment

a) Prepare your child: Inform your child about the transition and visit the daycare or preschool beforehand with them. Exchange a hello with the people who will be there.

b) Encourage expression: Let your child express their feelings and fears about separation. Listening to them and acknowledging their emotions can help them feel understood. Sit and reason with them, giving them an understanding of the bigger world they are a part of.

c) Rely on empathetic thinking: Read books about characters who face similar fears but end up enjoying preschool. Arrange playdates with other preschoolers and role-play real-life scenarios with toys, showcasing the experience of going to a preschool and returning home as fun.

d) Gradual separation: Start with short periods of separation and gradually increase the duration. This helps the child become more comfortable with the idea of being away from their caregiver.

e) Use a visual calendar: Uncertainty can fuel separation anxiety. So create a visual calendar or a picture schedule to help them understand how their day will proceed and when they will be reunited with their family.

f) Bring in some comfort: A special toy or blanket can provide comfort to a child during separations, serving as a familiar reminder of their caregiver.

g) Stay calm and reassuring: When saying goodbye to your child, remain calm and reassuring. Let them know that you will return and stick to your promises. “I will be back, right here to pick you up after school” “You can call me anytime you need me” and “I want you to know how much I love you” Such comforting statements can help put the child at ease and more open to the idea of a short separation.

h) Encourage independence: Allow children to practice age-appropriate life skills such as eating on their own, wearing shoes, and so forth so that they can gain confidence in doing things on their own.

"Patience, empathy, and open communication are key elements in supporting preschoolers through this sensitive period. By nurturing a supportive and understanding approach, primary caregivers, educators, and parents can empower preschoolers to overcome separation anxiety and embark on a path of healthy emotional development and successful learning," Sibi concluded.

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