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What Causes Separation Anxiety in Toddlers?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

Separation anxiety in toddlers is generally considered a normal behavior, and there are quite a few possible reasons for it. Most experts think the primary cause is a worry in the child's mind that the parents are never going to return, and a lack of understanding about where people go when they leave. Other experts point out that anxiety about being alone is a fairly logical reaction from a helpless child and might make a lot of sense on an evolutionary level. There is also some evidence that other external factors can worsen separation anxiety, including things like stress and lack of sleep.

At a very young age, children are just beginning to understand the concept of a person being present or gone, and simultaneously, they don't fully understand the concepts of time or space. When their mothers and fathers disappear, even if it is only for a very short time, children have no idea whether or not the parents will come back; in fact, they don't have any real understanding about where the parents might be in the interim. These general feelings of confusion and fear are thought to be central reasons for separation anxiety in toddlers, and even when children begin to understand, lingering doubts may continue for many months.


Some experts think that separation anxiety in toddlers might have roots in evolutionary survival. Young children are generally quite helpless, and in many circumstances, it would be dangerous to leave them alone for any period of time. The behaviors children exhibit when experiencing separation anxiety might work to discourage parents from leaving them alone, which would often be crucial for survival, especially during earlier times when people were more vulnerable than they are now. Essentially, fear of being left unprotected is thought to be a natural safety mechanism for small children.

Certain external factors may also have an effect on separation anxiety in toddlers, and parents might be able to reduce a child's fear with a few changes in routine. For example, some experts believe that children suffer less anxiety when they get plenty of sleep, and maintaining a calm environment can also make the child feel more confident, which can improve the situation. Things that stress a child, like loud noises, might be even more frightening to children when they're separated from their parents. If the parents consistently show a calm demeanor to the child any time they leave him or her with someone, this can help the child adjust more quickly, and reduce his or her fear in future situations.

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Discussion Comments


I strongly believe that severe anxiety caused at this stage can lurk in ones subconscious for the rest of one's life.

It is absolutely essential that the baby - from day one - is never subjected to distress of any kind.

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