separation anxiety is a normal stage of development. Knowing that doesn’t make this phase that much easier to stomach!
Below are some easy tips to help your children through this stalkish stage [or click here to take a quick 5 minute video lesson]
1) Play games that encourage healthy separation.
Toddlers who are in the throes of separation anxiety feel they are not completely safe if they are not in direct contact with their parent (most often the mother).
You can encourage brief periods of small separations by playing games that naturally incorporate distance. Start off with small baby steps. These positive experiences will help your children realize that they are still safe when they are not within eyesight.
Hide and Go Seek
Hide and go seek is an easy game to encourage separation. Start off in the same room and pick very very easy hiding spots. Let your children do the same. As your children get more empowered include more rooms.
Scavenger hunt around the house
Set up a scavenger hunt around the house. The treasures could be dollar store toys, gold coins, chocolate coins…whatever excites and motivates your children. The more exciting the treasure – the more distracted they will be from being separated from you. Place the treasure in easy places around the house (in eyesight).
Position yourself in one central location and tell your children to bring their treasure to you as they find it. This serves as a check-in for them as they roam around the house alone. If you feel your children can’t handle roaming all around the house, start off in one room and expand over time.
Walkie talkie fun
Give your children easy to use walkie talkies. You keep one. Depending on their skill level they may not have the dexterity and maturity to click back and talk to you. Regardless, it still makes a fun, silly game to try. Tell them you are going to talk to them through the walkie talkie in the other room. This encourages separation, while instilling the idea that you are still close – even when they cannot see you.
2) Set up activities for your children in the room right next to you.
Once your children have mastered some of the games above, move on to a more challenging step. Set up an activity (such as arts & crafts, trains, legos – whatever your children like) and tell your children that you will be doing a task (cooking, laundry, paperwork etc.) right in the next room. If they are resistant, tell them that they can come and check on you from time to time, but it is important that they sometimes do activities on their own.
Try to do one activity a day in this fashion as you work on their separation anxiety. The activity can be as long or as short as you think your children can handle.
3) Tell your children when you are leaving the room they are in.
Okay, I know you are thinking this step does not make sense – but it does. Children who are nervous about being separated are hyper-vigilant.
That means they are watching your every move.
When you sneak off, your toddlers eventually becomes aware and start to panic. This panic makes them even more vigilant moving forward.
If you tell your children where you are going, you are dealing with the issue upfront and not perpetuating the problem.
You might have a shadow for a little while, but if you tell them you will be right back – they might eventually stay where they are and trust that you will return.
4) Do not cave and bring them into the toilet with you!
I know this is tempting and what mother hasn’t done this – but when trying to help your children with separation anxiety – don’t bring them into the toilet with you!
For goodness sake – you need to at least pee in peace!
It is also helpful to have a built-in, natural time when your little ones are separated from you. This will give your toddlers a natural way to practice separation throughout the day for very brief periods of time. They will hover and stick little fingers under the cracks, but that my friend – is par for the course.
5) Don’t sneak out when leaving them with others!
If your children are suffering from separation anxiety – do not make it a habit to sneak out when leaving them with another caregiver. This will only heighten their fears and they will be less likely to recover from your sudden departure.
Instead, give your children a quick and non-emotional good-bye. Do not show hesitation when they cry or worse, come back and try to soothe them. They are upset because you are leaving – so you cannot successfully comfort them during this process – the caregiver will have to do the comforting.
Let them know that the caregiver is there for them and that you will return by a specific activity such as bed time or dinner time. Avoid using time references, as young children do not get the concept of time.
If you say you will be home before bed time – be home before bed time! Trust is key in building your children’s confidence and decreasing their separation anxiety.
How have you been surviving separation anxiety? Leave a comment and help a mom out!
Know someone going through this nightmarish phase? Share this article with them and lessen their struggles.
If you want a laugh – read my article An interview with a toddler stalker.More Anxiety Articles
A teen support book on anxiety that your kid will actually read:
If you are at a loss as to how to help your child manage anxiety, take the e-course Teach Your Kids to Crush Anxiety taught by a child therapist. Learn all the tools she teaches kids and teach them to your child. You don’t have to feel powerless.
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For more tips on separation anxiety, check out the book How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler
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