Toddler Separation Anxiety will typically show itself between the ages of 2 and 3, but could be as early as 18 months and continue into the 4th and 5th year of life. If you have every experienced your toddler crying as soon as you leave the room or have them throw themselves down in front of the door as you prepare to leave, then you know how difficult dealing with toddler separation anxiety can be.
For toddlers on the young side of the equation, the issue may work itself out with time. Part of the struggle for them is that they do not understand that you are coming back. There is a sense of fear that is overpowering for them.
Too often, the advice is to not give in to the tantrum and they will just get over it. Honestly, if you really think about it, do you get over your own fears by just dealing with it over and over again? Sometimes it works, but typically it is a rather painful way of doing it.
So, I recommend that parents play games that allow for the fear level to remain low while the toddler learns that separation is not permanent. This is a great deal less stressful for all involved and can be quite fun. Imagine that – a fun way of dealing with toddler separation anxiety!
Here are a few games you can play:
Peek-A-Boo – believe it, or not, the game has a reason! Let your children learn that when you are out of sight, you are still there or that you come back quickly. So, play peek-a-boo with them.
Hide The Toy – Take a toy that the child enjoys (though, not their favorite toy, as that will add to the anxiety) and hide it in a room adjacent to the one you and your child are in. Then, have your child look for the toy. Let them search for the toy (and find it) learning that an object that can not be seen can still be near.
Hide and Seek – direct the child to hide and then you hunt them down and find them. This is exciting for them and they can never keep quiet. Believe it or not it helps!
Hello / Good-Bye – Have your child dress up like they are going to work (your work or whatever they want to pretend to be). Have them get all ready for work and then walk out the front door (if it is safe to do so). Have everyone say goodbye and wish everyone a good day. Give hugs and kisses, as you do in the morning when you leave for work.
Have them walk outside and then come back in. When they enter, ensure that you greet them as if they have been gone all day! They get so excited with this one – 'Hi, Mom, I am home!' It is really fun when you add in a backpack or some other bag to carry.
Keep It Low Key
The idea is to give them low-risk activities that increase their awareness of separation and the fact that it is temporary. Separation anxiety can be intense, so be patient and work on it with encouragement and love.