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Nurturing Independence and Dealing with Separation Anxiety

Does your toddler cry uncontrollably when you try to leave him or her with a childcare provider—or even a close relative?

Separation anxiety is common among toddlers. In fact, some children can experience it from infancy through elementary school years. Try these strategies to help you both cope:

Crying Upon Separation

Separation anxiety hits different children at different times, but all toddlers experience this phase at some point. If your toddler cries when you leave the room, rest assured this is developmentally normal behavior.

When your toddler cries when you go out of their sight, it’s their way of asking you to come back; it doesn’t necessarily mean they are sad or afraid.

To ease your child’s mind:

  • Let them know where you’re going before you leave and that you will be back.
  • Advise the person you’re leaving them with to also reassure them that you’ll return.
  • This phase can be difficult and can come up multiple times in a young child’s life—daycare drop-offs, starting school, etc.

The good news is that your toddler now has the ability to “remember” that you’ve left and is making thoughtful connections.

Separation Anxiety Do’s and Don'ts

  • Do establish a pattern of cheerful goodbyes and reassurances that you’ll return. And do return when you say you will.
  • Don’t try to sneak away while your child isn’t looking; it may prompt even more anxiety.
  • Don’t head back to your child if her tears and distress escalate; trust that the caregiver knows how to comfort, reassure and distract her.
  • Do talk with your child’s doctor if your child’s anxiety begins to interfere with daily functioning.

Nurturing Independence at Age 1

As 1-year-olds become more aware of themselves as individuals, their urge to control their own actions and expand their abilities intensifies. At the same time, they’re also hesitant about being away from you for too long.

So your little one may seem fiercely independent 1 minute and overly clingy the next—and it’s all a normal part of development and growth in this second year.

You can encourage your toddler’s independence by inviting him to help with a task (picking up his toys and putting them into a basket, for example) and by brief separations (which allow you to take a break and your toddler to get used to being without you temporarily).

Your child may cry as you leave her with another caregiver, but this will typically be short-lived. Separation anxiety is also a normal part of toddlerhood, and one that’s probably more upsetting to parents than to the child. These tips will help ease the process.