It is completely understandable that a one-year-old would have separation anxiety, but it can be harder when your child with separation anxiety is four, five or six years old and still crying when you have to leave her somewhere.
Every week, I go to a local daycare and work with a child with a speech delay. I take him into a corner of the room and we play with toys and talk about what we see. The other children usually join in at one point or another. This week, there was a new child.
This four-year-old child was crying and when I walked in, he ran up to me and reached out for me to pick him up. I had never seen him before and I asked his teachers what was wrong. The answer was simple, “He misses his mom.” I saw the fear and sadness in his eyes, I heard the quiver in his voice, and I saw the drops on his tear-stained cheek. He had separation anxiety. I knew this look, this sound, this feeling. I had it as a child. My stomach hurt before school and it hurt before I had to go to the gym with my mom. It was due to anxiety.
I can remember my mom dropping me off in childcare while she took at a 30-minute aerobics class. I remember crying, even when the nice lady was trying to get me to play Candy Land. I remember watching the door, waiting for her to come back, even while my brother was playing with new friends behind me. I remember being angry that I couldn’t go downstairs with her to the workout room and being worried that I couldn’t see her. I even remember what she had on because as soon as she walked up those stairs, I could see her and I remember feeling so relieved. I was probably six years old at the time.
Here are a few things that might help with separation anxiety:
- Remember that this is normal.
- Prepare your child for what is going to happen. Talk about how long you will be gone and what they will do while you are gone.
- Talk about it on your way there. Build up the games, toys, and friends.
- Make goodbye as quick as you can. Drop her off, give her a toy or help her find one that she likes, give her a kiss and be on your way. Drawn-out goodbyes make it much harder.
- Don’t carry your child in. I know that it is silly and seems pointless, but it makes the separation part harder. Hold hands walking in, give a hug & kiss and pass her off to a teacher, but don’t carry her – let her be as independent as possible right now.
- Ask the teacher or child-care worker if your child can help with a special job if they don’t cry. Maybe helping to organize books, or clean off a chalk-board. A simple job will make your child feel important.
- Try to remember that most children are fine within ten minutes.
- Be consistent. If preschool is every MWF, be sure to go on those days. Don’t let him/her talk you out of going.
- Practice at home. If your child is six, it should be no problem for you to walk out onto the front porch or out to get the mail (if it is right near the house) while your child stays inside. Practice having time to play alone.
- If you still have concerns or the meltdowns continue, speak to a therapist or counselor about the separation anxiety.
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