Separation anxiety

By Dr Steve Buys – Marriage and Family Therapist

Many parents worry that they love their children too much and that their children may thus become clingy and needy.

One of the best measures of secure attachment however is a young child who is comfortable to explore the world in the presence of his parents and very upset when his mother or father leaves. The only problem is that in our culture this is not seen as normal. It is seen as undesirable and an example of clingy behaviour and in many cases, it is seen as failing on the part of us as parents to detach and grow a confident child.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, as is the incorrect assumption made by society is that to create a confident, independent child, you must push them out into the world so that they can learn that parents are not always at their side.

Preparation for this separation is one of the best ways in managing the child’s anxiety and will be very helpful for the times when leaving your toddler is unavoidable.

Ideally, before you leave your toddler, try to ensure that he or she has a strong bond with the person doing the caring. If you are planning on leaving your toddler at a nursery school, for instance, then visit the school a few times in advance so that the child can get to know the new caregiver.

It may be a good idea to take a photograph of your toddler and the new caregiver and refer to the photograph on a regular basis at home.

When you first have to leave your toddler try to do it for a short period of time such as thirty minutes or an hour. Slowly build on this a little at a time.

When you leave your child with another caregiver ensure that you always say goodbye. Never sneak out no matter what others may suggest. It is important for your toddler to know when you have gone and by sneaking out you may confuse and upset them even more.

Keep your goodbyes as cheery and positive as possible no matter how bad you are feeling yourself and reassure your toddler that you’ll be back soon.
Ensure that the toddler is in the company of the caregiver when you leave so that the caregiver can comfort them.

Invent a goodbye routine. An example would be to use the same words each time and kiss first your toddler’s teddy bear then your toddler and then the teddy bear again or perhaps you can even make your own song.