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Separation Anxiety

What to do:

Self-talk. Say to yourself, "It's okay. I can handle my child getting upset when I leave her with someone else. I know she misses me. She'll learn that I always come back."

Empathy. Ask yourself, "How would I feel if I was 2 years old and my mom left the house? I would need to get used to that, too, if she was around all the time for the first 2 years of my life."

Teach. Tell yourself, "I can help my child learn how to handle separating from me."

Praise. Say, "You were so brave when you let go of my hand and went into your classroom." And after school, say, "It was good that you had fun at school after I left. I knew that you could."

Show You Understand. Say, "I know how you feel. You'll be okay and will have fun with the sitter (or your friends). I will see you later."

Ignore the Noise. Remember that the noise will eventually go away when your child learns that she can survive without you for a brief time. Tell yourself, "She's crying because she loves me. But she needs to learn that I'll always come back."

Play Beat-the-Clock. To teach your child independence, give her five minutes of your time and five minutes to play by herself. Keep increasing the play-by-herself time for each five minutes of time spent with you, until she can play by herself for longer periods. Make sure that you can see her when she's separated from you. For an older child, make sure that you know where she is and that she can safely play by herself while out of your view. Let your child know that you are proud of her ability to play by herself. Say, "I'm so proud that you played by yourself while I worked on the computer." This will grow her self-confidence and independence, which will benefit both of you.

Share the Transportation Duties. Involve others in taking your child on errands, to camps, birthday parties, etc. and picking her up, so she learns that you can spend time apart and she'll still be okay. Say, "So glad you went to the store with Grandma. Or when you return to your child after school, say, "It was good that you had fun at school after Sarah took you."

What not to do:

Don't Get Upset When Your Child Clings. Getting upset with your child for clinging to you won't teach her independence.

Don't Punish Your Child for Clinging. Instead, follow the steps outlined above to teach her how to separate.

Don't Give Mixed Messages. Don't tell your child to go play by herself while you're holding, patting, or stroking her. This will confuse her about whether to stay or go.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.