The Cling Thing: How to Ease Separation Anxiety
Eileen Wolter never used to have trouble leaving her son with a sitter while she went to Pilates class. But when he was about 18 months old, things changed. "Graeme would scream and cry when the sitter arrived, and once I'd gone, he'd camp out near the front door," says the Summit, New Jersey, mom. What made him start reacting so dramatically? It's simple: He started thinking like a toddler, says psychotherapist Fran Walfish, Psy.D., author of The Self-Aware Parent. "As children start walking, they begin to assert their independence and move away from their parents. But they're not ready to fully separate," she explains. So when they're apart from you, they may also feel a strong need to be back by your side.
Around 16 to 20 months, toddlers are working to develop more mastery over their body (think running and self-feeding), and every new challenge that they face can cause stress, Dr. Walfish notes. As a result, they feel conflicted about being away from the security of their parents. While this phase may take months or even years to pass, there's plenty you can do ease separation anxiety in different situations.
When it comes time for you to leave your kid for real, give her advance warning that a sitter will be arriving or that you'll be dropping her off, and then keep your goodbye brief. "If you act anxious, or keep returning for another hug, she will think there is something to worry about," says Vincent Barone, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Avoid sneaking out, which can cause her to worry that you might disappear without warning - and result in more clinginess.)
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