All children go through temporary periods of separation anxiety which usually peaks between 10-18 months of age and then fades by 2 ½ years old. Separation anxiety is an indication of strong bonds of attachment with parents and caregivers which is a normal part of child development.
Separation Anxiety in Babies
Separation anxiety in infants coincides with their increasing mobility and the discovery of separation. They crawl away, look up, and all of a sudden you’re not right there – you’re several feet away.
This is also when infants begin to realize that when you leave, you are actually somewhere else. The concept of ‘object permanence’ kicks in as they begin to understand that things exist even when they can’t see them. They can now think “Where did mommy go?”, and become anxious that you are not there with them.
Separation Anxiety in Toddlers
For toddlers, their brains are becoming little detectives. A one year old can start using previous experience to predict future events. If you pick up your car keys, they know you are going to leave.
Separation anxiety is a normal fear of being away from the people you love.
Factors influencing Separation Anxiety
- Personality and Temperament: Separation anxiety can be more pronounced depending on your child’s personality and temperament. Sensitive kids may rely on parents more to buffer the world for them, or children who are late talkers may rely more on parents to help them communicate. Parents can help their child develop specific coping skills. For instance, a sensitive child may benefit from a soothing object, such as a teddy bear, to help them through separation.
- Attachment to Caregivers: If a child has only a few primary caregivers, they naturally develop stronger attachment to them, and can become anxious when their primary caregiver is no longer there. They think “Who will take care of me now?” when left with a unfamiliar person.
- Developmental Changes: It is not uncommon for a child who was previously comfortable with separation to suddenly start crying when you leave. Toddlers go through periods of difficult separation because of their rapid growth and development. For a two year old, developing independence is a scary — I can do it, no I can’t — back and forth struggle that contributes to a toddler separation anxiety. One moment they need, the next they don’t.
As children approach three years old, your child will become more certain of their relationship with you and more confident in their own abilities during your absence.