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What Causes Separation Anxiety in Children?

While it can be comical, heart-breaking or occasionally even maddening, there is a perfectly logical explanation for Separation Anxiety in children. As a new parent, you probably enjoyed watching your child progress through the recognizable stages of development. In fact, you and your friends probably got together and compared these stages. How old were the babies when they first recognized you? When they rolled over for the first time? (Of course, your baby probably did these things significantly early and has already proven to be a genius!)

Despite your child's obviously superior intellect, you can generally expect the stages of development to happen in a certain order and at a reasonably predictable rate. This means that Separation Anxiety in children can be anticipated to appear around eight or nine months of age and to persist at varying degrees as the child becomes a toddler. Until this point, pretty much every object, situation and experience has been a new revelation for the baby, and rather than being shocked by the newness of it all, it is seen as typical to constantly be encountering the unusual. Over those first several months, the baby learns to associate the primary caregiver(s) with safety and security.

The development of Separation Anxiety in children corresponds not only to the recognition of caregivers as "safe," but also to the beginnings of children's mobility. In the animal kingdom, most babies must be able to walk shortly after birth, and just watching a new calf or duckling that has been separated from its mother will demonstrate that they are also born (or hatched, as the case may be) with an ingrained sense of Separation Anxiety. Humans develop it around the same time that we are learning to toddle about under our own power. The instinctual desire to return to the caregiver keeps us from wandering too far.

So, while many parents worry about causing some sort of emotional disorder in their children by attending "Girls' Night Out" or some equivalent non-baby-inclusive event, it is important to remember that Separation Anxiety in children is a necessary stage in the development of these little people. In fact, a complete lack of Separation Anxiety may be cause for concern, as it helps keep us safe. Of course, that knowledge doesn't make it any easier to leave a tearful toddler at daycare or to convince a clinging preschooler to get out of the minivan in the morning.

In addition to your child's natural progression through the stages of development, there are a few factors that can contribute to the anxiety. For example, if the child is particularly tired, he or she may exhibit more anxiety-induced behaviors. Major changes in the child's daily routine, such as a new nanny or a new routine at daycare, can also increase the child's discomfort and cause a reaction. Family changes can bring about anxiety, as well, so the addition of a new sibling or a death, divorce or illness in the family can trigger Separation Anxiety in children.

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