It’s exhilarating to be the center of your child’s universe -- until you go to answer the phone or use the bathroom and your child screams bloody murder and clings to your legs. Separation anxiety tends to kick in around the first birthday, when your baby is aware that there’s only one mommy and that you still exist even when you’re out of view. But the tears and tantrums can make a surprise return between the ages of 1 and 3.
“Often, new developmental milestones (such as learning to walk) or life changes (such as a new sibling or childcare situation) may shake a child’s base of security,” says psychologist and early childhood consultant Terrie Rose, Ph.D. “It can require them to go back and check in with earlier behaviors that are familiar and reassuring to them.”
Fortunately, the lapse should only last until your child adjusts to whatever has temporarily rocked its world. And you can help. “The best thing is to give kids sensitive, responsive care to show that you’re still there for them the same way you’ve always been,” Rose says. “Once they get that reassurance, they’ll be happy to embrace new opportunities.”
Rose endorses these tried-and-true techniques for fuss-free good-byes:
With a new caregiver or baby sitter, you might ease the transition by leaving only briefly at first. You might say, “I’m just going upstairs to put on makeup. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Your child may get less upset knowing you’ll be right back, and each successful separation and reunion makes the next one easier.
For older toddlers, it can help to give a benchmark for when you’re coming back, like after they wake up from nap or after they eat dinner and have a bath. “Since they can’t tell time yet, it gives them a sense of security,” Rose says.
Don’t even think about slipping out without saying goodbye. “Kids learn that you’re not predictable and that they have to watch you constantly to make sure you’re not leaving,” Rose says. “Saying goodbye helps them manage their expectations and emotions.”
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