Venessa Rinaldi drops off her 23-month-old daughter Ella to daycare and the crying begins. What can she do to help Ella overcome her fears of abandonment? First, she can start by taking a deep breath.
“Separation anxiety is completely normal in young children,” says Robin Rosenberg, a social worker at Child, Adolescent & Adult Family Counseling Center in Highland Mills. “Children who cry and cling to mom when they get dropped off are showing the appropriate amount of attachment. As long as the child calms down shortly after the drop off, there is nothing to worry about.”
“All children like to test the waters,” says Kim Steuber, Educational Director of Rose Hill Manor Day School in Beacon. “But once the parent leaves, they’re back to playing like normal.” “The peak of separation anxiety is 18 months to three years,” Rosenberg says. “But that doesn’t mean any anxiety before or after is cause for panic.”
You should seek counseling if your child is unable to calm down for more than an hour after you have left. If your child is school-aged and refuses to get on the bus or is miserable going to school, he may need help.
Rosenberg says they’re at the stage of development where they’re learning a concept called object permanence, which starts as young as infancy with peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek. The child is trying to grasp the fact that even though something isn’t physically present, it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” she explains. They learn that people do come back.”
Steuber tells parents that even though they may feel guilty leaving a child, a short and sweet goodbye is best. The less time you stay, the quicker their anxiety vanishes. Rosenberg suggests starting a daily ritual, like a special kiss, before dropping them off. “I had my daughter pretend to kick me out the door,” she laughs. “Remember,” Steuber advises parents, “You’ll remember these days, but your child won’t.”
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Coleen McDonald is a recent graduate of Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh and an aunt of three.