Separation Anxiety

Teary and tantrum-filled goodbyes are a common part of a child’s earliest years. Around the first birthday, many kids develop separation anxiety, getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else. Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling. Understanding what your child is going through and having a few coping strategies can help both of you get through it.

Research suggests that the intensity of separation and/or stranger anxiety may depend on the child’s personality. Some children are naturally more emotional and tune into their negative feelings more intensely than other kids.

The timing of separation anxiety can vary widely from child to child. Some kids may go through it later, between 18 months and 2½ years of age. Some may never experience it. And for others, certain life stresses can trigger feelings of anxiety about being separated from a parent: a new child care situation or caregiver, a new sibling, moving to a new place, or tension at home.

Separation or stranger anxiety peaks at certain ages:

How long does separation anxiety last? It varies, depending on the child and how a parent responds. In some cases, depending on a child’s temperament, separation anxiety can last from infancy through the elementary school years. In cases where the separation anxiety interferes with an older child’s normal activities, it can indicate a deeper anxiety disorder. If separation anxiety appears out of the blue in an older child, there might be another problem, like bullying or abuse.

When separation or stranger anxiety strikes, the child may:

It’s important to a child that her parents are available and dependable. Use signals and cues, along with old-fashioned common sense, to deal with anxieties.

If you’ve tried a number of strategies to reduce your child’s separation and/or stranger anxieties, have encouraged and complemented your child on strides toward independence, but she is still having difficulty, it’s a good idea to share your concerns with your child’s physician. Talk with your doctor if your child has these signs:

For most kids, the anxiety of being separated from a parent passes without any need for medical attention. But if you have concerns, talk to your doctor. 

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