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A struggle with separation anxiety might not surprise a toddler's mom, who recognizes her child's distress as a normal development phase. If you are the mother of a 5-year-old child, however, the appearance of separation anxiety may seem more baffling. But don't be alarmed. It's not unusual for separation anxiety to reappear when children experience a significant milestone, such as entering school. Whether your child's anxiety resembles an earlier incident from toddlerhood, or the behavior is a first-time event for your 5-year-old child, you can help.
Understanding Separation Anxiety
Children typically demonstrate separation anxiety between the ages of 8 months to 2 years. Symptoms that include crying, rejecting other caregivers and exhibiting fearfulness with strangers, eventually dissipate, much to the relief of the toddlers and their worried moms. Unfortunately, successfully navigating the stormy waters of separation anxiety does not ensure that its discomforting symptoms will not return to affect the well-being of 5-year-old children. Five-year-old children may experience separation anxiety when they feel overwhelmed by feelings of stress. Your loving responses can help your child to learn positive responses to stress.
Stress, left unrecognized, can exert a negative impact on your physical and emotional health. But it can be more difficult to recognize and reduce stress in your child's protected world. The most common source of stress for your 5-year-old child is the onset of school, but other stressors exist outside of the parameters of her world. Your child is not immune from the stress that enters your world, so stay aware of what your child sees and hears. For example, a 5-year-old child who hears her mom arguing with a spouse or sympathizing with a friend's bad luck, may adopt the accompanying anxiety as her own.
Helping Your Child Cope with Stress
Identifying the source of your child's stress is a first step in helping to alleviate problems with separation anxiety. Talking about potential sources of stress can provide insights related to problems and solutions, although your 5-year-old child may need assistance in expressing her feelings. Remind your child that you will always be there for her, and that her feelings are okay. Tell your child that you recognize her anxiety, and that you, too, experienced anxiety as a child.
When it is necessary for you to leave, interact with your 5-year-old child calmly, reiterate your love for her and tell her when you will return. Remind your child of earlier experiences when she handled a goodbye successfully, and praise her upon your return. Identifying sources of stress and responding in a loving manner will help to minimize the discomfort of separation anxiety.
Becky Swain's first publication appeared in the "Journal of Personality Assessment" in 1984. Her articles have also appeared on various websites. She is an adjunct college instructor, licensed school psychologist and educational consultant. She holds a Master of Science in clinical psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy in educational psychology, both from Mississippi State University.