More Triggers for Separation Anxiety
The Trigger: Handling a Big Group
Going to a large gathering can be particularly anxiety-provoking for your toddler, who may be afraid of losing you in a crowd. When you arrive someplace with a lot of unfamiliar (or even familiar) faces, avoid pushing him to interact or run off to play without you -- wait until he takes an interest in others. Follow his lead. If he does let someone else entertain him, don't wander off and disappear. "He might accept being held by someone, but only minutes later decide that it's too much," says Pantley. Be ready to scoop him up if he gets upset; pushing him beyond his limit will make the next group situation more difficult. And don't stress if you end up having to stay by your toddler's side the whole time. "You're not crippling him -- you're offering support, which will help him feel comfortable in future social settings," Dr. Walfish assures.
The Trigger: Going to Sleep
Leaving your toddler in her room at night or for a nap can inspire anxiety, since these are probably the longest stretches of alone time she regularly experiences. Be sure to establish a relaxing order of events before sleep, such as a bath, then a story or songs. This will help ease her into the notion that bedtime (and alone time) is coming. Also give your child a lovey to hold and turn on some soothing sounds, like a CD of ocean waves. This will make the quiet in her room less obvious in your absence, says Pantley.
If she wakes up from a nap and is happily playing in her crib, don't rush in to get her. "Let your child have the chance to experience what it feels like to be by herself and having a good time," says Pantley. Finding that she's comfortable with it will boost her confidence and independence, as well as help her feel more secure on her own in the long run.
Originally published in the April 2012 issue of Parents magazine.