Babies younger than 6 months old usually adjust well to being away from their parents. However, around 4 to 7 months old, babies develop object permanence and begin to understand that people and objects exist even when they are out of sight. Thus, when a parent leaves their child's sight, the child understands that the parent went somewhere else. Since they don't yet understand that the parent will return at some point, the child may become anxious. This is called separation anxiety. Many young students entering preschool, kindergarten, and even elementary school, suffer from separation anxiety. It is a difficult time for both students and parents, and presents a challenging time for teachers.
Common Causes and Antecedents of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety usually peaks between 8 and 12 months when toddlers become agitated and upset whenever their parents leave them (Harkness, 2005). Harkness (2005) states that separation anxiety can show itself anytime between 8 months and 3 years of age, and it can be triggered by a new child care situation, a move to a new home, or tension within the home.
Some children never experience separation anxiety, but for many children, being taken to a new educational setting (e.g., preschool or kindergarten) may be the trigger for their first real sensation of being separated from their parents. The degree of anxiety felt by the young child depends on many factors. Some children are more dependent on their parents and have had few experiences being separated from them. Some children have learned that being separated from their parents is not a permanent situation. Thus, the child's previous experiences play a significant role in how a child will deal with separation from his parents.
In rare cases, separation anxiety can last for many years and may be a sign of other problems at home. In other cases, when separation anxiety appears out of the blue, after months of attending school without any problems, the child may be telling his parents and teachers that there is a problem at school and this should be investigated.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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