Easing Separation Anxiety

A parent toolkit to make separations smoother from babyhood through adolescence.


Published:

SHUTTERSTOCK

It’s a scene many parents have lived out: You’re having a good morning, sipping coffee as you drive your happy, babbling 8-month-old to the babysitter’s house on your way to work. Armed with the diaper bag and your baby’s lovey, you bundle her into the sitter’s warm, welcoming home as you’ve done dozens of times.

But this time, when you hand her to the sitter, things go sour. She throws herself back toward you, seemingly trying to leap from the sitter’s arms into yours, unleashing a guttural scream as her face turns crimson. Your heart drops. You offer a few soothing utterances before turning to leave, your stomach and mind in knots as you reluctantly walk back to the car. Though separation anxiety in children developmentally is normal —even healthy — it can be confusing and upsetting, too. Here’s an age-by-age guide for facilitating smoother separations from babyhood through adolescence. 


EARLY YEARS

Keep Calm

When separation anxiety first strikes, usually around 7-8 months of age, it takes many parents by surprise because it seems to come on suddenly. In fact, separation anxiety is the result of your baby’s healthy cognitive development and his expanding perception of the world around him. Though hardly pleasant, separation anxiety is the sign of a strong, secure attachment to a primary caregiver, says Sara Thatcher, child psychotherapist and owner of Oak City Counseling in Raleigh.

During a separation anxiety flare-up, Thatcher recommends that parents remain calm and model confidence, even if they feel torn. Maintaining a consistent drop-off routine and avoiding prolonged goodbyes can help ease separation anxiety over time, she says. When your baby or toddler resists separating, offer a kiss and a cuddle and assure your child that you’ll return later. When you appear calm and collected (even if you feel anything but serene), your child senses that separations are safe. 


ELEMENTARY YEARS

Sleepover Success

Anxiety over separation from parents or caregivers isn’t solely the domain of babies and toddlers. School age children experience separation blues, too.

“Separation anxiety can ebb and flow throughout childhood, and this is normal,” Thatcher says. But for grade schoolers heading out on their first overnight sleepovers, separation anxiety can dampen the fun of what should be a celebratory gathering.

First, assure a child she’s never under any obligation to participate in a sleepover, even if Grandma has requested an overnight visit or “everyone will be at the birthday party.” If your anxious child does want to attend, take steps to prep for a smooth, enjoyable experience by sending a small coping toolkit along with your child, recommends child psychologist Sandra S. Pimentel, Ph.D., chief of Child and Adolescent Psychology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

“Include words of encouragement on an index card, a small stuffed animal or soothing toy, a picture of something treasured or encouraging, and a written reminder of what to do if they get anxious while there, like listen to music or read, or call home for a brief check-in,” Pimentel suggests. 


TEEN YEARS

Travel Trauma

The teen years bring exciting journeys — longer summer camps, visits to faraway friends, internships and college visits. These trips offer tremendous learning value to teens, but they also mean longer separations from home, which can provoke anxiety (even if your teen is reluctant to admit he or she misses mom and dad). Setting up a regular schedule for communication check-ins, such as a text exchange each evening, a daily email or a phone call every other day can help your teen stay connected while he’s away.

“I recommend an outlet for potentially stressful separation times, such as a journal or way to contact parents in writing, like email,” Pimentel says. “If the teen is especially anxious about the trip, having a discussion with the camp counselors or trip director about how to get in touch regularly may be helpful.”

When you speak with your traveling teen, keep the tone upbeat, Pimentel says. This communicates that you’re confident in your young adult-in-training and his ability to spread his wings.

 

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.”

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Calendar

December 2019

Wear your favorite holiday attire and dine with Santa Claus. Enjoy a delicious brunch, stories and crafts, and take pictures with the jolly man from the North Pole. 

Cost: $10/child. Free for ages 2 and younger

Where:
Joyner Park Community Center
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Telephone: 919-676-6368
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See dancers and a guitarist from Flamenco Carolina perform a Spanish style of music and dance.

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Ebeneezer Scrooge was visited by three spirits, but what about the next Christmas? With heartwarming excitement, discover how the Cratchit family has fared in the year that has passed since old...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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The Durham Medical Orchestra performs with special guest Joseph Alessi, principal trombone, New York Philharmonic.

Cost: Free

Where:
Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University
1336 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
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As a Christmas gift to our community and surrounding area, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church delivers the true Christmas story in a stirring virtual “walk” through Bethlehem to the stable...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
12605 Capital Blvd
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Sponsor: Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
Telephone: 919-556-7777
Contact Name: Meghan Reynolds
Website »

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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
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The choir presents its 49th performance on Handel's "Messiah."

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Website »

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The first day of winter is right around the corner! Help us welcome the season by making a snow globe to take home. We will bring the materials if you bring the imagination! For all ages (adult...

Cost: For all ages (adult accompaniment required for all children); FREE. Registration

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
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Telephone: 919-662-2850

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Children will enjoy this wonderful book written by John Denver reminding us not to forget about the wildlife this holiday season. We will make a craft then take a walk to look for our wildlife...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Join RTOOT as it performs the music of great Italian composers as well as beloved Christmas classics. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $9/adult, $3 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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Dan the Animal Man brings some of his animals from his vast collection to entertain all ages. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Website »

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Help find candy canes hidden in Bond Park before the Grinch turns them green. Ages 6-12. Registration required online. Choose course #127871. 

Cost: $10/child

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC
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Website »

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Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

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Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Get into the holiday spirit by decorating cooking, making a craft and enjoying a holiday children's show.

Cost: Free

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Website »

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The Wake Forest Abilities Choir will present an evening of holiday music under the direction of director.

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

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Celebrate pecans at the State Farmers Market.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Join us to learn about how Habitat for Humanity helps build houses, hear a Christmas tale and then build a graham cracker house of your own. Call to, 919-245-2532. Best for ages 4 and up with a...

Cost: free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

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Is there a man in the moon, and is the moon made of cheese? Sip on some hot cocoa and listen to some of the stories people have told about the moon and find out if there is truth to them. Then...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for everyone, and adult accompanime

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Discover family traditions from North Carolina and around the globe. Create art, enjoy free access to Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism, and have a special visit with Santa.

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Art East Building and Museum Plaza
Raleigh, NC


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Bundle up and enjoy an evening around the campfire learning about creatures of the night and listen to Native American tales about some of our favorite nocturnal animals. Roast marshmallows and go...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

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Kids ages 5-12 enjoy indoor activities while parents enjoy a night out. Register online. 

Cost: $30/resident, $45/nonresident

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Website »

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Wear white clothing and play games, tumble and dance. Enjoy pizza, drinks and more. Ages 5-10. Registration required online. Choose course #127487.

Cost: $18/child; $28 for two children per family

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
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Friday, December 13, 6:00pm, at both the Millbrook and Wake Forest Campuses. Put on your Christmas jammies, grab a blanket and come out for a  festive night to watch the classic animated...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crossroads Fellowship
2721 E Millbrook Road
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: Crossroads Fellowship
Telephone: 919-981-0222
Contact Name: Lorraine Entwisle
Website »

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Have some fun and make something great at the Clay studio (and parents can sneak away and grab a bite or do some shopping at Northgate Mall). Each kid will complete and paint a piece of pottery...

Cost: $18 per child per workshop

Where:
1058 West Club Blvd
Durham, NC  27701
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Telephone: 919-560-2726
Contact Name: Lauren Tannenbaum
Website »

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Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Sing along with the band as they perform holiday favorites of Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
, NC  27513
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Celebrate the love and joy that this season brings by creating art inspired by a Christmas tree. Register online. Choose course #126761.

Cost: $32/resident, $42/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

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Our Reindeer Romp is open to the entire community and our Girls on the Run families. So join us! Celebrate as nearly 1,000 girls reach their end-of-season goals – the finish line is only the...

Cost: $30 - $35

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheater
8003 Regency Pkwy
Cary, NC  27518
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Sponsor: Girls on the Run of the Triangle
Telephone: 919-401-6307
Contact Name: Jamie Botta
Website »

More information

Ages 5-12 make a picture frame for the holidays. Snack provided. Register online. 

Cost: $30/resident, $45/nonresident

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Travel with us to Puerto Rico with books, games and arts and crafts!  Join the staff of ISLA (Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition) for a fun filled hour! Best for ages 3 and up with a...

Cost: Free Gratis

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

One ticket admits the entire family to decorate a special gingerbread house. Supplies provided. Workshops available at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Allergy-free workshop available at 11 a.m....

Cost: $40

Where:
Family Preschool
4907 Garrett Rd
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Family Preschool
Telephone: 919-402-1500
Contact Name: Sue Henson
Website »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Holiday Habitat Helpers Saturday, December 14, 2-3 Attract winter wildlife to your backyard by providing or improving their habitat.  Create simple outdoor decorations...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us as we watch for meteors during the Gemenids Meteor Shower. Local astronomers will help us observe these shooting stars and other phenomena in the night sky. As a bonus we may see or hear...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Favorite Christmas songs are presented in authentic Nashville country style with dazzling guitars and fiddles along with soaring harmonies. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $25/person

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

See the choir perform beloved Christmas songs with guest vocal group AVANTE. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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