Parents' Corner

How To Help Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

Posted by Dave Smith on Wed, Jan 03, 2024 @ 08:00 AM

Toddlers can exhibit signs of separation anxiety when they’re parting from their parents or caregivers, perhaps by crying, clinging, or engaging in tantrum-like behavior to try to get them to stay. Although this can feel challenging to deal with, it’s actually a normal part of development that can last up to the age of three or, sometimes, even later. 

The Roots of Toddler Separation Anxiety

Young children may feel scared when separating from the people who offer them security. This happens because they can’t yet understand the notion of time. Even if you tell a toddler that you’ll be back in a certain number of hours, they won’t understand the specifics. And so, they react in ways to try to keep parents and caregivers with them.

Fortunately, when you know how to help separation anxiety in toddlers, it can become easier. 

Strategies for Working Through Separation Anxiety

One child psychologist tells Parents.com that it’s important to keep goodbyes brief. If, instead, you act anxious or keep giving just one more hug, the toddler can interpret this to mean that there really is a problem. So, provide advance warning that you’ll be dropping them off, and then say your goodbyes. This can turn into a familiar routine that actually reassures your toddler. Don’t sneak out while your toddler is distracted, though, because they might develop a fear that you might suddenly disappear. This can increase clinginess.

It can also help to designate a favorite item for your child to keep with them when away from you. This can be a favorite stuffed animal, a family picture, or a comfortable blanket, to name a handful of examples. When your child has access to this special item when they want it, it can soothe feelings of separation anxiety.

When you discuss your return with your toddler, use language your child will understand. You could, for example, say that it will be after nap time but before it’s time for the afternoon snack.

HealthyChildren.org, meanwhile, notes the importance of keeping your promises to build trust. Even if you come earlier than what was promised, perhaps for a surprise visit, this can trigger another round of separation anxiety — one that can be worse than the original event.

Look for opportunities, as well, to practice being apart. This could be a playdate where your toddler goes to a friend’s house, a visit with Grandma, or a family member babysitting on an evening or weekend. This gives your toddler chances to experience your absence.

If you still have concerns, there’s nothing wrong with talking to your pediatrician to develop a plan for how to help with separation anxiety in toddlers. They’ve helped other families and can assist you as well. 

Horizon Education Center’s Toddler Program

Fortunately, Horizon’s experienced teachers know how to help separation anxiety in toddlers, creating a comfortable, engaging, and toddler-supporting environment. Our toddler programs help to prepare youngsters for preschool, teaching them valuable life skills as part of the curriculum. To find out more, you can schedule a tour at the location of your choice today. 

Horizon Education Centers offer child care for toddlers at its Lorain and Cuyahoga County locations in Cleveland, Ohio.

Topics: Child Behavior, Toddler Care

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