It’s an entirely normal part of childhood development, but separation anxiety in toddlers can still be hard to navigate. Dr Sarah Mundy has released a lovely book to help parents and toddlers work through it — given that so many of us have had to take breaks from childcare, this book is perfect to help you transition back.
We love our children and we want to keep them close. But eventually, the time comes where we need to leave them at nursery, or with their grandparents — or just leave the room to go to the bathroom. When this happens, you might just encounter separation anxiety. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll break your heart just a little. They reach out to you, they cry, they grab hold of you and it makes you want to stay — even though you know some separation is good for them in the long-term. So what can you do?
Let’s explore separation anxiety in toddlers, what it is, why it happens and how you can survive it. I’ll be sharing a fun and interactive book by Dr Sarah Mundy titled Please Stay Here — I Want You Near. This book, written by a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, is designed to help you and your toddler navigate the issue of separation anxiety.
Dr Sarah Mundy has also answered your questions on the topic of Coronavirus and Children — including the anxieties it can cause and how to help children understand the pandemic in an age-appropriate way.
Separation Anxiety in Toddlers — What is it?
Separation anxiety can start at about 8 months. It usually peaks at about 18 months and toddlers generally outgrow separation anxiety by age three. Remember, every child is different, and for various reasons, some toddlers might struggle with separation more. It’s also worth noting that certain transitions, like starting school, can result in a return of separation anxiety. This is nothing to worry about.
Toddlers experiencing separation anxiety will get clingy and cry when they notice you leave, even for a short amount of time. This might take you by surprise, especially if your child is normally such a calm and content creature. Your toddler’s separation anxiety might extend beyond you to his or her grandparents, close family, or those closely involved in their care.
Concerned about mental health? Check out this interview with psychiatrist Doctor Victoria Khromova on postnatal depression symptoms and stigma
Why Does it Happen?
Separation anxiety is a normal part of growing up. It’s essentially a child’s fear, or nervousness, about being away from their parents or caregivers. It generally starts with babies when they start to move around a bit more. When you look at separation from a survival point of view, it makes complete sense. Evolutionarily speaking, it makes more sense for kids to stick by their parents, where it is safe.
Separation anxiety is just an indicator that your toddler is becoming more aware of the world around them, and of their strong relationship and dependence on you. New places or situations might make them feel upset or unsafe, which is understandable if you think about it. I think we forget sometimes how new toddlers are to the world and how overwhelming everything must be.
Separation Anxiety in Parents
This is something I don’t think gets talked about often enough. Separation isn’t just difficult for toddlers — it can be painful for parents, too. The thought of handing a toddler over to a nursery and leaving might trigger some real anxiety or guilt. We know we have to get on with our lives, to earn money. We know these experiences are beneficial for kids, that they teach them independence. But it doesn’t make it any easier for us.
It also marks the end of an era. Our tiny little shadow is growing up. So how can parents keep up a strong and confident exterior for our toddlers?
Other articles in the mental health series: Panic attacks during pregnancy
Please Stay Here — I Want You Near: A Book That Can Help
Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Sarah Mundy recently sent me a copy of her book Please Stay Here — I Want You Near to read and review. This book is the first in the series of Bartley’s books. This series follows Bartley Bear as he grows up and faces all the challenges that come along with that. In this book (beautifully illustrated by Rachel Millson-Hill) we join Bartley and his mum as they navigate separation anxiety.
Bartley loves school, but he is reluctant to go because he knows that it will mean spending time away from his mum. What I found really interesting about this book was that it isn’t just a story — Dr Mundy actively engages parent and child throughout this book by asking prompting questions. This is a lift-the-flap book, and behind each flap, Bartley’s friend, Nudge the Squirrel, asks questions designed to help children open up and explore their feelings and thoughts about issues like starting school, and any associated anxiety. Such topics can feel very big for toddlers, and they don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to express their worries or frustrations. The questions help parents break down the issue in a fun, relatable, age-appropriate way, so children can begin to open up and understand their own emotions.
What I loved about the book was the message that separation anxiety is completely normal. It also addresses the issue from a child’s mindset — part of the reason behind a child’s separation anxiety is they are worried their parents will never come back for them. This book shows them that just as Bartley’s mum came back for him, parents always come back. The book teaches them it’s okay to be worried — it’s normal. But everything will be okay in the end.
Dr Mundy (who herself is mother to three children) gives useful tips on the final pages of the book, outlining how parents and toddlers can cope with separation anxiety. You can buy the book on Amazon today.
While you’re here, check out this fun post exploring weird Google searches parents have made
Parenting Through Stories
Please Stay Here — I Want You Near is part of a larger series of books known as Parenting Through Stories. These books have been designed for parents and young children to enjoy together. With the help of his mum and Nudge, a curious squirrel, Bartley begins to face all the emotional obstacles involved in growing up. The series is developed as an interactive experience between parent and child. The books provide prompting questions which encourage children to explore their own feelings and experiences in a safe, fun way.
Other books upcoming in the series relate to:
- Tricky behaviour (Stop that Now — I Don’t Know How)
- Bedtime routines (Time for Bed — Rest Your Head)
- Healthy eating (Please Eat Up — No, It’s Yuck!)
- Toilet training (You’ll be Happy — Without Your Nappy)
- The arrival of a new sibling (Hey, Little Mister — Meet Your Sister!)
I hope you love Dr Mundy’s book! If you’re looking for more to add to your reading list, I have a list of great parenting books you should check out today.