What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a normal stage of child development that occurs around 8 months of age. At this age, a baby begins to understand that he is a full person and not an extension of his parents. He realizes that he and his parents are separate people. He is also making more and more of a difference between those around him (parents, brother, sister, grandparents) and those he does not know. That's why your baby used to smile to all strangers and now looks serious and intimidated in the presence of strangers.
In addition to being afraid of new faces, your baby is also, and above all, afraid of being abandoned. When he does not see you, he thinks you're gone forever. He does not understand that when he no longer sees a person or an object, that person or that object still exists. This is why it is said that he has not yet acquired the "permanence of the object".
When he believes you have "gone forever," your child's fear and tears increase because you are the one who nurtures, cares for and comforts him. This concern can last up to 18 months.
Separation anxiety affects both parents, but may be more apparent to the one who spends the most time with the child..
How is it manifested?
Here's how your baby can react during this time:
- Crying when he does not see you anymore, when you leave him alone in a room or in the presence of a person he does not know or little.
- Do not smile at first come and not want to be caught by anyone.
- Sit or cry when you bring him to new places.
- No longer like to take a bath, because he now perceives water as a "foreign" environment.
Not all children experience separation anxiety with the same intensity. Those who are used to seeing many people often go through this period more easily. The personality also has its role to play: some children are more fearful of nature while others are more sociable.
How can I help my 3 year old with separation anxiety?
Little by little, your baby will get used to new situations and people. He will also learn to break away from you. Here's what you can do to reduce your anxiety:
- Avoid leaving when your child is not looking or sleeping. He risks living it like an abandonment. Say goodbye while explaining why you are leaving and what will happen during your absence. Even if he cries and does not seem to listen to you, explain to him that you will come back soon with a concrete reference in time. For example, tell him, "See you after your nap. You can also explain to him that he will be good with the person who keeps him and that she will take good care of him.
- Show yourself confident when you entrust it to someone. Otherwise, he will feel your anxiety and that will only increase his.
- When you have it at home, ask the guard to arrive 15 to 30 minutes before the time of departure. She will be able to do activities with him while you are still at home.
- Get your baby used to seeing people, but do not force him to get caught by someone else.
- If he wants to stick to you in front of strangers, cuddle him. Do not hesitate to reassure him and to take him in your arms when he is afraid.
- Give him time to adjust to a new place or people he does not know. Take the time to talk to them to get used to them.
- Play "cuckoo" by hiding your face behind a blanket. This game allows your baby to realize that you still exist even when he does not see you.
- Give him a doggie or blanket that will be a source of comfort for him when he experiences strong emotions.
- Help your little one become independent. For example, set it up with toys near you when cooking or reading. He will gradually trust him knowing that you are close.
Separated Parents, What To Do?
Here's what you can do to help your toddler if you live in shared custody during the period of separation anxiety:
- Maintain the same routine (meal time, bath time, bedtime) for both parents to secure your child. If he goes to a childcare center, it is also preferable to have as much as possible the same hours of arrival and departure.
- Make sure your child has his blanket, doggie or favorite toy with him in both places.
- Give him a garment soaked in your scent when he goes to the other parent's house.
- Leave a photograph of the other parent in his room.
Entry to daycare and separation anxiety
If your child starts daycare during this time, you must gradually get used to your absence. Here are some tips that will help you live the situation better:
- Go visit the place in advance. Stay together the time it takes to discover the place and get to know the people there. That way, when you leave it for the first time, it will not be a totally new place for him.
- Do not delay the time of departure. Take a moment to cuddle your child, reassure him, tell him he is in good hands, and leave the place afterwards. If you stay on the spot too long, it will be difficult for him the following days to understand that you leave quickly. If you want to stay a little on the spot with him, it is better to do it at the time of your return.
- Start by leaving it for short periods at a time, an hour or two the first day, then a half-day, and so on. Your child will gradually become accustomed to this new environment, and his reactions will diminish and give way to the pleasure of discovery.
- Do not blame him especially if, when you go looking for him at night, he cries or ignores you. He needs to adjust to your return and his feelings are sometimes contradictory. He probably had a good day, but he may have had trouble too. Wait until he comes to you from himself.
Separation Anxiety in Toddlers: To remember
- Separation anxiety is a normal stage of child development that occurs around the age of 8 months.
- During this period, your baby fears strangers and he is afraid of being abandoned. When he does not see you, he thinks you're gone forever.
- You can help your baby reduce his anxiety by giving him a lot of affection and slowly getting him used to new people and situations.
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Resources and References
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- CANADIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION. My baby, I'm waiting for it, I'm raising it: from conception to three years old. Montreal, Reader's Digest Selection Edition, 2012, 266 p.
- COLLINS, Jane. The health of your child: the essential guide, from birth to 11 years old. Saint-Constant, Broquet, 2006, 352 p.
- NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC HEALTH OF QUÉBEC. Live better with our child from pregnancy to two years: a practical guide for mothers and fathers. www.inspq.qc.ca
- ROSSANT, Lyonel and Jacqueline ROSSANT-LUMBROSO. Your child: a guide for parents. Paris, Editions Robert Laffont, coll. "Bouquins", 2006, 1515 p.