Separation anxiety is not just something that is limited to young babies, because some children continue or develop it during their toddler years. Usually surfacing between 6 and 8 months, some children have severe separation anxiety during their first two years of life. This is because toddlers are fully aware of their parents, and can become attached to them very easily. If the parent or guardian isn’t nearby, extreme tantrums and hysterics may ensue, and because toddlers want to have a say in things, they will likely be very vocal about your leaving. In this second part of our series on dealing with separation anxiety in children (our first entry on managing separation anxiety in babies is here!), we will give you some tips to deal with it in toddlers.
Tips to Make it Easier…
Ritualizing things tends to calm toddlers down considerably, but we don’t mean turning goodbye into some weird cult practice. Instead, just before you say goodbye to your toddler, give them affection in an ordered way; for example, squeeze their right hand, kiss them on the nose, and pinch their cheek. Ritualizing goodbyes this way creates a sense of order, and if it happens enough times, your child will know not to worry because you’ll be back again. You can tell your child that you’ll be back, but don’t give them concrete times because they don’t understand the concept of hours or minutes. Instead, you can tell them that you’ll be back after their favourite show airs, or around nap time; but take care to show up on time, because they will notice if you’re late, and this will teach them not to trust you when you say you’ll be back soon.
Giving your child responsibilities when you’re gone can help distract them from your absence, and further add to the ritual of goodbye. You could ask them to put their toys away, or to shut the door behind you, or to draw you a picture. This even works if your child is anxious whenever you leave to use the bathroom or to do chores: you could tell your child to watch the dog or to fold a shirt until you get back. And always remind your toddler that you’ll be back for them, because you want them to know that you come back every time you leave.