Managing Separation Anxiety
In Preschool Age Children
From The Early Childhood Education Blog
Every preschool parent has been there. School has just started, you have a new group of children, everyone is excited and a little anxious about their new environment, new friends, new teacher, new everything!
Separation anxiety is a very normal part of early childhood development and it happens at all ages and stages. Handling separation anxiety isn’t only about managing an individual child, it is also about working with their parents through it all, creating a safe and welcoming environment for kids to come back to, and most importantly, teaching the children how to process, articulate and work through their feelings!
The Facts By Age Group
Separation anxiety develops as a child begins to understand the concept of object permanence, which is the idea that something continues to exist when it can’t be seen or heard.
The thought process goes something like:
Wait, dad was there a second ago. I know he’s somewhere, but where is he now? Will he come back? Where is dad?!
It can be pretty stressful on a child, but the good news is that it will pass and there are systems in place that early childhood educators and parents can use to help teach them that it’s okay! While it is common for separation anxiety to be most prominent between 18-months and 3 years of age, children of all ages go through it to a certain degree.
Separation Anxiety in Babies
4-5 month old babies can show an understanding of object permanence, but 9 months is usually when they start responding to it. Separation anxiety in this case is often associated with tiredness, hunger or illness. Short transitions and a consistent routine is key to help babies feel better as they experience these emotions.
Separation Anxiety in Toddlers
As a baby grows into the toddler stage, separation anxiety becomes more difficult, especially around the 18-month mark. We are all familiar with the Terrible Twos and separation anxiety can be particularly challenging at this age. This is primarily because toddlers are exploring their independence at the same time as becoming more aware of being separated from their parents or guardians.
So, while they want their own space, they aren’t quite ready for it too! They are also more vocal about their feelings. This can be an emotionally challenging time for the children (and adults). Rest assured though, it is only a phase and this is part of understanding boundaries as a little human.
Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers
By the time they turn 3, most children will grasp an understanding of how their behavior is affecting the adults around them. Consistency is key at this stage as young children can and will push their boundaries by pleading with their parents or throwing tantrums to get their way.
Setting clear boundaries and expectations will help preschoolers navigate their emotions. The more consistent adults are at this stage, the better children will understand that their parents are coming back and can shift their attention to other (hopefully fun!) things.