I can remember like it was yesterday, but it was 36 years ago. When my son was a young toddler, I took a year off from teaching to take care of him. My husband and family supported me with a day at Mother’s Day Out at Opelika First Baptist so I could get family errands done and so I could have some time to be with friends or just rest. The day off that I was looking forward to soon became a day of guilt when I heard my young son screaming and crying when I left him in the care of wonderful loving preschool teachers. I would linger, just to be sure he was ok. However, lingering and not leaving, made it worse on my son, his teachers and me. The seasoned and loving teachers realized that my son and I were having a classic case of separation anxiety. They took it upon themselves to help me learn to separate from my toddler in a healthy way, which benefited all of us especially my son.

I would like to share some thoughts that might help other parents who may be having the problem of separation anxiety from their child.

It is normal for children at different ages and developmental stages to have some anxiety and fear. For example, when infants cry when mom or dad leaves, it may simply be due to normal, healthy bonding from infant to parents. Those of us who work with young children see this stop within three to four minutes after a parent leaves.

When it comes to teaching children around seven or eight months to 24 months old, it is normal to see expressions of fear because they sense that the parents will leave and not return. Many times, parents return to pickup their child and are met with tears. The reason for this is that the child is reminded how they felt when their parents left. When this happens as a teacher – I explain that their children really had a good time.

Most of the time, these little ones are laughing, engaging in learning and activities. So, moms and dads, please don’t worry that your young child has had a bad time – 99% of the time, they are reflecting upon the separation feeling that came when you initially left them.

Parents, feel free to ask your child’s teacher about your child’s day. When younger children move around the room by crawling or walking away from their parent’s side, the space or distance may make them become fearful or anxious despite the positive step of progress.

Be patient and have hope because there is light at the end of the tunnel. These unpredictable reactions separation usually decrease between 2 and 3 years of age. As a teacher, I love to watch as the morning separations become easier. It is great to wave goodbye to a parent with a smiling child who has moved past this stage of development.

One suggestion that I have — and one I have seen many parents do when their child experiences this anxiety — is to ease out slowly until the child adjusts. For some, it is better for the parent to become a participant in the class along with your child for a few moments and then slowly exit. The teacher of the class will deeply appreciate your understanding of this. Sometimes, immediate separation is the answer. It all depends on the personality and nature of each child. Parents know their child better than anybody.

Take into account that tiredness, illness, or divorce, death or other major changes in a family, can contribute to the anxiety a child feels when they are away from their parents. If a child is attending a new daycare center or preschool, or has a new caregiver, this also can contribute to separation anxiety.

Many parents begin to have nights out by asking a family member – such as a grandparent –  to take care of the child. Other options include hiring a babysitter or working with another young family by taking turns in giving each other a night out. I see that happening in our Auburn-Opelika MOPS group of moms and families.

When it comes to teaching young children in Sunday School, one thing that seems to connect a child to that feeling of closeness is to let the young child to bring an item from home such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal to hold close to. With this strategy parents need to be sensitive to the needs of the teacher and the class and not bring an item or toy that may be disruptive.

Families I hope these few suggestions encourage you to have patience and hope as you and your children go through this stage of development.

Classroom Observer

Beth Pinyerd