Until they were 11 months old, my twin boys were so nonchalant whenever I'd leave the room that they seemed like a couple of teenagers. As I'd head off to work, the boys would glance my way, then resume chewing on their barnyard animals or playing with their babysitter. They seemed to be thinking, "Eh, catch you later, Mom -- whatever." I figured: Phew! We dodged all the separation anxiety drama that had stressed out so many of my friends. (Hey, maybe we'd get lucky and bypass the terrible twos, too!)
But then one morning, reality struck big-time. As I opened the door to leave, Ian, the small, scrappy one, began rolling around the floor, wailing as if stricken by food poisoning. Toby, his chubby, gentle brother, clung to my leg, bawling so hard he could barely breathe. I was heartbroken, and totally flummoxed. I had no clue why it was happening or what approach would be easiest on the boys.
"Separation anxiety can happen almost overnight, which makes it shocking to parents," says Sara Abbot, associate director of the Family Resource Counseling Center in Los Angeles. What's more, it's often not just a one-time, babyhood phase for many kids. The tears and fears related to being apart from Mom or Dad can resurface in the toddler and preschool years, posing new challenges for parents and warranting different
solutions. As disheartening as that may sound, it can be very helpful to remember that separation anxiety is completely normal, even healthy. "From the earliest years of life, we should want children to encounter ordinary adversity because it's practice for building resilience," says Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., coauthor of I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy! Why You Shouldn't Say It.... Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to minimize your child's angst, as well as your own, along the way.