In a typical year, there would be many opportunities during the school and holiday season for children to separate from their parents to engage with other adults away from home (e.g. teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles.) Research confirms that separation anxiety is common for children staring from early infancy up through 4 years of age. Beyond the age of 4, children may need increased support for successfully separating from their parents. There are several strategies parents can implement if separation anxiety is an area of challenge for their child. These strategies include:
*Regularly and routinely practicing separation: giving children multiple opportunities to separate from a parent (e.g. going on play dates, going to the park, small groups, spending the night with other family members.) Research shows that children who routinely spend time away from their parents develop healthy separation patterns earlier than those who do not.
*Scheduling separation following naps/feeding: research shows that children are more susceptible to having separation anxiety when they are tired or hungry. Following a nap and a meal, children are also often more subdued in their arousal level making the separation less anxiety-inducing.
*Developing a goodbye ritual: research shows that having an efficient, predictable ritual (e.g. wave, kiss) can assist children transitioning away from their parents. Following a simplistic ritual can prevent the process of separation from becoming extended so children can better adapt and move on in the process.
*Taking a piece of home: research shows that having a familiar home item (e.g. toy, blanket) can assist children in transitioning away from their home and parent as they take a piece of home with them in their transition to a new environment with new adults.
*Leaving without fanfare: research shows that a child’s separation anxiety can be made worse by a parent’s own separation anxiety. If parents can reduce tendencies to stall or exaggerate the separation process and if parents show confidence in leaving their children, the child is shown to handle the separation better as a healthy response is modeled by their parent’s.