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Handling a Child with Separation Anxiety

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Every parent has experienced this scenario in one form or the other: you go to drop your child off at day care for the first time or you leave for a little getaway with your spouse or partner, only to be greeted with your child's tears, screams and heartbreaking cries of "Mommy!" or "Daddy!". While this situation can cause even the most resilient parent to become consumed by guilt, the good news is that this type of behavior is perfectly natural in most children.

Known as separation anxiety, this behavior is common in children as young as eight months and can persist up until the early school years. However, for most parents, handling separation anxiety isn't exactly a walk in the park! If your child is currently suffering from separation anxiety, here are a few expert tips that will have your child becoming more independent - and you feeling a little less guilty!

Practice Makes Perfect. There's an old saying that basically tells us that the faster we rip off a band-aid, the more it will hurt - but the pain will be less prolonged. With children, however, that saying should go straight out the window! Suddenly leaving your child with strangers for a long period of time - like with daycare, for example - can be one of the most traumatic experiences in a young child's life. Instead, help your child get used to separation by gradually spending more and more time apart. Once your child enters daycare or school, he or she will adapt more readily to your absence.

Give Your Child A Memento. Young children often need objects that provide them security; for example, perhaps your son or daughter has a blanket or stuffed animal that they keep with them at all times. You can apply this same thought in order to alleviate separation anxiety - give your child a small photo of yourself or some other small object that has significant meaning for the both of you. Tell your child that this object or photo means that you'll always be with them.

Follow Through! When greeted by your child's tears and heartbreaking screams, it can often be tempting to give into the guilt and run back to them. However, you absolutely, under no circumstances, should reward their behavior with your return: this will only teach them that you'll respond to their tempter tantrums, and that's difficult behavior to unlearn! Say good-bye firmly, and don't look back, no matter how much it breaks your heart.

Reward Good Behavior. Negative behavior should never be reinforced, but if your child shows progress in overcoming his or her separation anxiety, reward them with praise and affection. Not only will this encourage your child to continue overcoming separation anxiety; it will help to remind them that you'll always come back to them with lots of love and affection!

Call In A Professional. There are many cases where mild separation anxiety develops into a full-blown disorder. If you suspect that your child is suffering from more than a normal case of separation anxiety, ask administrators and teachers if there are any counseling services offered by the school. Additionally, consider utilizing the services of a professional child psychologist, who will be able to teach both you and your child how to effectively deal with separation anxiety.

Remember, in most cases, separation anxiety is a natural phase in a young child's life - with your love and encouragement, your son or daughter will soon overcome this stress and start to lead a more independent life.