By Sister Lilian for Baby City 2016
Not only babies, but toddlers and young children occasionally go through phases of separation anxiety – this is quite normal. It can occur at any stage depending on your little one’s temperament and circumstances. Around one year of age, when tots are making great strides toward independence, they often need to hold on more tightly to their secure base – that’s mostly Mom or Dad!
Dealing with separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can be a difficult phase for parents and it can be heartbreaking to have your little one do everything in her power to stay close to you – crying, clinging to you, and trying to follow you when you leave the room. If your baby is less than a year old, she won’t understand that you are coming back – be it from leaving the room or from leaving her in someone else’s care while you go out. This is upsetting for both of you, as there are going to be times when you’ll have to leave Baby. Fortunately, as your baby turns into a toddler, this will become easier for them to understand. The best way to deal with a toddler’s separation anxiety is to:
• Never ignore her cries – it’s her way of expressing her fear and anxiety over having ‘lost’ you
• If she protests at you leaving the room she is in, tell her you’ll be back soon and then keep talking to her when you leave the room; she’ll still cry, but she’ll soon gain confidence when she realises that you always come back
• Preferably leave your tot with someone she knows when you have to leave her for longer periods
• Let her have a comfort object like a tedd, or blanket if she wants it; this is her way of dealing with the separation anxiety
• Be patient – this will pass!
Going back to work
Many moms encounter separation anxiety when they have to go back to work – an often unavoidable reality. Little ones usually pick up on a mother’s anxiety and unhappiness as the time draws near and this may cause anxiety before the separation even occurs. For inherently sensitive children, the best option is to get a close relative, loving nanny, or carefully selected day-mother to be the main caregiver, as these little ones need lots of emotional care and larger crèches often aren’t able to provide this. If this isn’t an option, opt for a crèche with the smallest caregiver to child ratio. Your tot will get used to the separation if you handle it lovingly and there are plenty of ways to make up for the time spent apart during the day – such as going for a walk, preparing supper together, and co-sleeping.
Often a little one will put up a fuss if a stranger wants to pick her up or play with her – your partner included! This is especially true if you stay home with your child all day while your partner is at work or there has been illness or an emotional upset in the home which has created a strong bond between you and your child.
Some children are simply more averse to touch and strangers and take longer to ‘warm up’ to others. The best way to handle this is to:
• Portray friendliness and openness to set a good example
• Ensure an active social circle
• Take your child with you when you go out
• Avoid being too possessive of your tot
Of course, toddlers need lots of loving, close interaction with a few significant caregivers in order to thrive, but you need to make sure that your little one is getting enough social interaction. If you’re very reluctant to let other people interact with her, you might entrench anxiety problems.
There’s no right way to deal with this, so your family will need to find a solution that works best for you. It isn’t enough to try to force your child to socialise more or be more open; it’s best if she picks up positive messages from your confident approach. A good way to deal with stranger aversion is to let her sit with or close to you while you interact with the other person; she will gradually relax and warm up to the person if attention isn’t focused on her.