How to Handle a Child’s Sudden Separation Anxiety
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Family physician and parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa joins The Doctors to answer audience member Lissette’s parenting concern. Her 3-and-a-half-year-old son was always a leader since day one of preschool but recently he’s been having tantrums whenever she leaves him at drop-off. He also has a meltdown when he sees in her car that she has cups or to-go trays after pickup, crying that she did stuff without him.
Dr. Gilboa assures Lissette this this behavior is totally normal for toddlers usually around ages 2 or 3. She explains that they are actually recognizing their sense of autonomy.
Dr. Gilboa reassures Lissette that her son's crying is not an indication that he’s not a leader amongst his classmates or that he’s a mama’s boy! He just needs to be heard. She recommends parents acknowledge their child’s emotions by saying things like “yes, I understand that frustrates you we do stuff when you’re not here,” because kids end up separating more easily as they get older if parents can hear they’re upset.
To make it easier, create a “drop off” strategy and involve your child in it. Ask what they want to do first. For example, put things in the cubby, 2 kisses, a hug “and you’re out!” Be confident as you leave, and every time you leave and come back, you build confidence.
But how do you know if it is actually separation anxiety? Dr. Gilboa says often you can sense in your kids the difference in their emotions, but if you sense fear as an overriding emotion, look twice. Inquire with teachers if there is anything going on with another child in the classroom to make sure there isn’t an underlying cause of anxiety.