Q: When I drop my son off for a playdate or for preschool, sometimes he doesn't want to let me go, and sometimes I don't want to let him go. What can I do to help ease this anxiety for the both of us?
A: During times of transition, many children do exhibit some natural anxiety and nervousness. Most separation fears are not excessive and can be remedied by using praise, emotional and social coaching strategies, and small rewards for successes. In order to be set up for success, plan a separation and reunion routine with your child. Practicing at home will help a child anticipate and normalize his or her feelings when separation happens, and it also reinforces a parent's belief that they will be successful.
Sometimes, your child may be more excited than you are to start new chapters in life, and you may be the one with a little hesitation to separate. During these transitions, parents may feel guilty about taking time out for themselves, leaving their child with a caregiver or going to work. Separation anxiety is the opposite side of the attachment coin: A healthy bond with your child means there will be some discomfort when they aren't there.
Parents spend the most time with their children, getting to know them inside out and backwards. While other caregivers may do things differently, anxious parents should remember that little ones are adaptive, and learning to trust and be cared for by other family members or friends will boost their feeling of community and sense that their world is a safe place.
-Cami Winkelspecht, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with Nationwide Children's Hospital Behavioral Health.