Distress around separating from a primary caregiver can be very common among children and a normal part of development. Children from 1-year-old to about 4-years-old are in the process of gaining confidence to be independent. Because of this natural part of development, symptoms such as worry, tantrums and clinginess when separating can be common.
If as your child gets older the fear of leaving a parent or caregiver does not decrease that could be a sign that your child is experiencing separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can be defined as intense nervousness around leaving a primary caregiver. Obvious signs of separation anxiety vary from children verbally expressing resistance to go somewhere or displaying unhappiness through crying, fighting or physically holding on to a parent/caregiver. The not-so-obvious ways children can display anxiety around separation can look like silence in a child who is usually talkative, shutting down or physical symptoms like being sick.
There are a number of factors that can attribute to nervousness and hesitation around separating from parents or caregivers. Lack of familiarity in a new environment, break in routine, fear that something will happen when they are away from their family or an over-bearing and clingy parent. If a child feels that their parent does not want them to leave then they will be more likely to fear leaving as well.
As children enter middle school and high school, sleepovers become a more common occurrence among friends. This can be a fun activity for some children or a source of anxiety for others. A sleepover to a nervous child can mean sleeping in an unfamiliar environment, not being able to say goodnight to a familiar person and losing structure/routine often found around bedtime.
Recommendations for parents to help ease their children’s separation anxiety and embrace the pastime of a sleepover are:
- Acknowledge and identify the fears that your child’s experiencing. Figure out what are they most nervous about and what are their expectations for the sleepover?
- Support your child. Let them know you are proud of them for becoming more independent
- Plan a fun activity to do together the day following a sleepover. Planning an activity together reassures your child that though you are encouraging them to do something on their own you are still there to spend time with them
- Figure out if there is a parent or caregiver that your child separates more easily from, then try to have that person drop off your child
Children with a healthy attachment to their parent or caregiver are most likely to feel confident when leaving. As a parent, make sure you are promoting your child’s independence while also making sure to be available for your child when they need you.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.