How To Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety

As a matter of experience, seeing your child struggle with separation anxiety is not a pretty good feeling.

Whether it’s their first day at school, saying goodbye at daycare, or even just a few hours apart, separation anxiety is never easy for the child and can trigger overwhelming emotions.

But the good news is there are practical steps we can take as parents to help our kids manage and navigate their separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is common in young children and typically occurs between 8 months and 3 years old.

For newborns and toddlers, separation anxiety is a typical developmental stage. Still, in some cases, it can also be an indication of a more severe condition known as Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD), which we will discuss later in this guide.

Therefore, this guide will provide information on how to support your child through separation anxiety. We will explore the causes, indications, and risk factors to look out for.

But most importantly, provide simple and effective strategies you can easily implement to handle your child’s separation anxiety. Let’s get started.

What To Know About Separation Anxiety

How To Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety
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Separation anxiety in children refers to a common developmental stage characterized by a feeling of anxiety and distress a child experiences when separated (or attempts to be separated) from their primary caregiver or a familiar environment.

It typically affects infants between 8 and 12 months. While most children outgrow separation anxiety as they grow older, it can persist up to around 2 to 3 years, depending on the child. Adults, though, can also experience it.

So, it is essential to understand that separation anxiety is a common aspect of childhood development.

However, while separation anxiety is not considered a pretty good experience for the child, it can also be seen as a positive sign. For example, separation anxiety is a reflection of the child’s bond with their parents or caregiver. It is otherwise considered an emotional connection.

This emotional connection is crucial to a child’s healthy development because they rely on them for comfort, security, and familiarity. So it’s only natural for a child to rebel if they feel like they are being separated from their parents or caregiver.

Some kids sometimes experience an extended version of separation anxiety called Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD). The symptoms of SAD could last till their teen years.

Children with SAD makeup only three to four percent of the population and frequently signals problems with mental health and general mood. A mental disorder diagnosis in adulthood will be given to about one-third of children with SAD.

Back to separation anxiety, when you say goodbye, it’s normal for your child to exhibit signs like crying, tantrums, and clinginess, and these are all appropriate responses to separation anxiety which is an expected stage of child development.

It’s crucial to remember that some concern about leaving mom or dad is natural, even when your child is older, even if the severity and timing of separation anxiety might vary significantly from child to child.

Your child’s anxieties can be eased with knowledge and the appropriate coping mechanisms, and they should vanish entirely as they get older.

Even with their greatest efforts, some kids struggle with persistent separation anxiety. These children struggle with severe separation anxiety throughout elementary school and beyond.

To point out: When separation anxiety lasts for weeks or months instead of only a few days, it becomes a situation of Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD).

Indications Of Separation Anxiety

How To Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety
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Children who have separation anxiety feel anxious or afraid all the time. Many children have symptoms like:

1. Fear That A Loved One May Suffer A Dreadful Fate

The fear that something bad may happen to a loved one while the child is away is the most common a child with separation anxiety encounters. For instance, the youngster can be preoccupied with worrying about their parent getting ill or wounded.

Your youngster could worry that if they are alone with you, something will happen to keep them apart. For instance, they can be concerned about being abducted or lost.

2. Refusing To Attend School

A child with separation anxiety can have an excessive fear of going to school and would do anything to avoid going. They usually refuse to go to school for two reasons: First, they don’t want to be separated from their loved ones. Secondly, the school environment is too unfamiliar for them.

3. Unwillingness To Sleep 

Children with separation anxiety may have trouble sleeping because they fear being left alone or have nightmares about being separated.

4. Illness Of The Body, Such As A Headache Or Stomachache 

Children who struggle with separation anxiety frequently report feeling sick at the moment of separation or earlier.

5. Sticking Close To The Caregivers

 This is one of the most prevalent indications of separation anxiety. It is usually demonstrated when you try to leave the house, and your child struggles to come with you, and if perhaps you refuse them from coming along, then they start crying loudly.

Sometimes, the child may be smart enough to start acting clingy when they observe you’re preparing to leave the house. That way, they know you can hardly get rid of them when you’re ready to leave the house.

Causes Of Separation Anxiety In Toddlers

Saying Goodbye

Toddlers strive to gain more control over their bodies (like running and self-feeding), and each new challenge might be stressful. They may thus experience conflict over being separated from the safety of their primary caregivers. Toddlers require confidence that you always return when you leave.

Large Events

Your child may experience more anxiety when attending a big event because they worry about getting lost in the crowd. The environment looks too crowded for their experience and the many unfamiliar faces they will see.

Getting Into Bed

The longest periods of alone time your child likely has been during naps and at night, so leaving them in their room at such times can make them anxious.

Risk Factors Of Separation Anxiety 

Separation anxiety disorder most frequently starts in childhood but can last throughout adolescence and occasionally into adulthood. Separation anxiety risk factors can include:

  • Life pressures or losses that cause separation of parents, such as moving or leaving for school, losing a beloved pet, losing a loved one to illness or death,
  • Some temperaments are more prone than others to anxiety problems.
  • Family history, such as blood relatives who struggle with anxiety or have an anxiety condition, suggests that certain characteristics may be passed.
  • Environmental problems, such as going through a separation-related catastrophe.

10 ways You Can Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety

How To Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety 
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When you have a brief absence from your child, there is no need to feel guilty. Instead, concentrate on teaching your child how to control their emotions without your assistance, as this is a crucial step in helping them develop greater independence.

1. Talk About The Things You Two Will Do Afterward

The worry that they might not see you again contributes to children’s anxiety when you separate ways. This anxiety can be reduced by discussing your return: “I’ll pick you up when I get off work so we can get you more toys.”

2. Work On Achieving Longer Separations While Practicing Shorter Ones

See how it goes if you try leaving your kid with a dependable friend or family member while you run a brief errand. Your child can gradually adjust to being alone if you do this.

3. Have A Cuddly Toy Or Blanket With Your Child To Make Separations Easier For Them

Has your kid got a favorite thing to cuddle up with? If not, introducing one might be a good idea. When a kid is agitated, a specific toy can help them soothe themselves.

4. When Your Child Is Scared, Reassure Them

When you are with your child, please pay attention to what they say. Always reply with compassion and understanding, and avoid minimizing their concerns. Additionally, watch out for non-verbal indicators like fussing or increased clinginess.

5. Any New Caregiver Should Be Introduced Gradually

Plan a few quick get-togethers with the three of you before leaving your baby alone with a new babysitter if you are preparing to introduce one. In this manner, they won’t seem unusual to your child when the moment comes when you must leave them with them for a while.

6. Say Goodbye Promptly

Not only is saying goodbye painful for your child, but it’s also terrible for you! When saying farewell, do your utmost to maintain positivity and composure. When departing, hurry up, and give your child a smile and a promise to see them soon.

Maintaining this practice can convince your child that you will always return while also assisting them in becoming accustomed to drop-offs.

7. Establish A Calming Bedtime Routine

Create a calming bedtime routine, such as bathing and listening to your favorite music or story. This will assist your toddler in preparing for the impending arrival of bedtime (and alone time).

Give them a lovey to cuddle while you play relaxing music recording; It will hide the fact that their room is quiet when you depart.

8. Give Them Independence After A Nap

Do not rush to pick up your child if they are contentedly playing in their crib when just awakened from a nap. Allowing your youngster to experience what it’s like to be alone while having fun.

When they discover that they are at ease with it, it will improve their independence and confidence, ultimately making them feel more secure.

9. Read Children’s Books

Children’s literature provides kids with circumstances they may relate to while promoting social and emotional learning. Consider reading to your toddlers.

10. Establish A Departure Ritual

Creating a very brief process routine can be helpful. Tell them, “I’ll come to collect you after work. I cherish you. After hugging your youngster, go. You establish a comfortable transition between being with and without you by using the same goodbyes each time.

Separation Anxiety Vs. Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

While separation anxiety is a common developmental stage characterized by anxiety and distress when a child is separated from their primary caregiver or a familiar environment.

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a major mental issue marked by severe anguish when a kid is separated from the primary caregiver and is NOT considered a normal stage of child development.

Determining whether your child needs patience and understanding or has a more serious issue can be challenging because typical separation anxiety and SAD share many of the same symptoms.

The primary distinction between typical separation anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is the degree of your child’s anxieties and whether they prevent them from engaging in everyday activities.

When a child has a separation anxiety disorder, they may become upset at the mere prospect of being away from their parents and may even claim to be unwell to avoid going to school or playing with their friends. 

These worries can combine to become a condition if the symptoms are severe enough. SAD can be managed however anxious your child may become. But you may have to do numerous things to help your child feel safer and encourage less separation-related anxiety.

How Is Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) Diagnosed?

Symptoms must be present for a child to be diagnosed with SAD. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor could request more testing.

Additionally, your doctor might observe how you talk to your child. This demonstrates whether your parenting style impacts how your child manages anxiety.

How Is Separation Anxiety Disorder Treated?

Treatment for SAD includes both therapy and medication. A child can benefit from either or both therapy options for anxiety.

Therapy Treatment

The most effective therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Through CBT, coping skills for dealing with anxiety are taught to kids. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques are frequently used.

Parent-child interaction therapy is a different approach to treating SAD. The three main stages of treatment are as follows:

  • Child-directed interaction (CDI) aims to strengthen the bond between parents and children. It entails kindness, focus, and adulation. These support a child’s sense of security.
  • Bravery-directed interaction (BDI) informs parents of the causes of their anxious child. The therapist for your child will create a bravery ladder. The ladder displays scenarios that make people feel uneasy. It offers incentives for favorable responses.
  • Parent-directed interaction (PDI) trains parents to speak to their children in a clear and concise manner. This aids in controlling unruly behavior.
  • Another factor in successful treatment is the educational environment. When feeling worried, your youngster needs a secure place to go.
    Additionally, your child should have a mechanism to contact you if necessary during school hours or when they are away from home.
    Finally, the teacher of your child should promote communication with other students.
    Speak to the instructor, the headmaster, or a guidance counselor if you have worries about your child’s classroom.

Medication Treatment

There are no particular drugs for SAD. If alternative treatments for older children with this illness are unsuccessful, antidepressants may be employed.

The doctor and the kid’s parent or guardian should give this choice significant thought. Side effects must be closely watched for in children.

How To Help Children With Separation Anxiety In School

How To Help Your Child Deal With Separation Anxiety 
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Here are some ways to support a youngster with separation anxiety at school if your kids go to a classroom.

1. Make A Trial Run

Even if you only go around the school and speak about what to expect, visiting it before it starts might comfort your kid.

Younger kids should practice leaving and returning home. Trust that a parent would always return is established even after a brief walk around the block.

2. Pay Attention To Their Feelings

Without attempting to talk the youngster out of their feelings, listen if the child wants to speak. Children should know that, with your help, they can face their anxieties, even if they are anxious.

It is typically the responsibility of parents to reassure nervous children that their feelings are normal, that they can handle whatever is causing them to feel anxious, and that they are there to assist them.

3. Give Your Child A Souvenir

Give them something you’ve put your love into. A piece of jewelry, a memento, or a photo will work just as well for older kids.

One warm, cuddly object from you, a picture of you, or some other symbol will assist in soothing their worry or sadness on those trying days when they miss you.

4. Take It Slow

Children need more support this year, so parents and teachers should prepare for it. Parents should permit modest steps, such as a shortened school day or, if permitted, making arrangements for a parent to stay.

Although they will have many changes, older children and middle and high school students will probably be relieved to see their pals. Regardless of the child’s age, be alert for difficulties as they settle into school.

5. Create A Routine

Children may have a harder time adjusting to an irregular pattern. Thus, staggered school schedules could result in an even longer adjustment period. Establish a program at home on days off, even if your child attends school only twice weekly.

Create a calendar with them to assist parents. Assist the kid in developing routines for when they leave for school and return home. This framework, which need not be rigid, aids in framing the day. That gives the child comfort. 

6. Lighten Up

Your child might benefit from a good laugh to prevent things from getting too serious. Encouraging youngsters to laugh is the most effective strategy to help them overcome their fear.

Thus, playing rough with their kids in the morning before school can help them feel less anxious about attending school.

7. Be Honest

Children can be informed that this year is different and that we are still determining how the school will be conducted there.

Children are appreciative of honesty. Inform them that you will always be available to assist and that everyone at the school is working to ensure everyone’s safety.

8. Say Goodbye And Mean It

Inform your child who will pick them up and when you will see them again before you leave. Give the youngster a big hug and kiss if they cry, let them know when you’ll see them again, and hand them over to the instructor.

Avoid lingering. The lingering shows that you might need more confidence in the circumstances, which might aggravate them further. Parents may also experience emotions during a separation, especially if their child frequently cries.

Whether or not your child sobbed at the end of the day, commend them for their courage and let them know you’ll be back.

When To See A Doctor

Without treatment, separation anxiety disorder typically won’t go away and can, as an adult, result in panic disorder and other anxiety disorders.

Speak to your child’s pediatrician or another health professional if you have worries about the separation anxiety your child is experiencing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Toddlers Outgrow Separation Anxiety? 

As a child gets older, separation anxiety usually decreases, but for various reasons, temporary periods of similar feelings may occur. Separation anxiety can resurface in older toddlers or preschoolers who are ill or under stress.

For instance, most 2-year-olds attending daycare for some time are usually alright when their parents leave. However, it is typical for youngsters to cling to their parents at drop-off when they are beginning to feel ill or under stress.

This behavior is typical of early childhood development and will gradually lessen and disappear. However, because every child is different, there is no set time during which separation anxiety will start or cease. 

Be ready for regression, especially when routines change due to a trip, an illness, or a move. Sometimes it may take a child a few months to get over their worry.


Parents who minimize and criticize their children’s feelings are believed to weaken their ability to control their emotions and make them more susceptible to emotional health issues like anxiety and depression.

Children who suffer from separation anxiety can benefit from gentle prodding, repetition, and praise. We recommend that you seek professional assistance if your separation anxiety is severe, persistent, and interfering with your everyday life.

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