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How to Help Babies and Toddlers with Separation Anxiety During and After COVID-19

During the past year, families have had to make significant changes to meet the COVID-19 mandates.  Some of you have abruptly ended the routine of daily childcare or school drop-offs. Many of you have replaced weekly errands with online shopping. Others have had to cancel regular visits with family members or friends.

This string of abrupt changes may also have had an impact on your child’s separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a stage of development that is typical for babies and toddlers. It is a sign of attachment to caregivers and is also a common stage of emotional and cognitive development.

As a baby’s brain develops, she begins to understand that things exist even if she cannot see them. For example, if a toy is moved into another room, she understands that the toy is somewhere, just not in front of her. The same awareness happens with people, and especially parents, siblings, and primary caregivers. This can lead to separation anxiety.

While this is a challenging time of development, there are ways to help your child cope with separation anxiety.

  • Talk with your child. Preparing your child for time away is important. Talk to him about what to expect when you leave. Validate his feelings of fear and uncertainty. Answer his questions with honesty. Sharing information and talking about feelings builds trust and decreases stress.
  • Create a short goodbye routine. Children thrive in consistent and predictable environments. Having a short, simple “goodbye” routine can help your child feel safe about the separation. This routine could be sharing a quick hug, waving from a window, or giving them a special toy or blanket to hold. The goodbye routine is a signal that after some time away, there will be time together again.
  • Practice separation. Although separation anxiety is a development phase, children will pass through anxiety into security with practice. Practice leaving the child with a family member or a safe adult for short periods of time. Follow the “goodbye” routine and always come back at the time promised. Be calm and reassuring as you step out and when you come back. He will learn that your absence is temporary and will look forward to your return.

These resources offer additional information about easing separation anxiety:

For more information about supporting a child’s development, visit helpmegrowmn.org.

Portions of this content, developed by Help Me Grow Minnesota, may have previously appeared elsewhere.

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