IF today is your pre-schooler's first day of daycare or school, brace yourself for a major temper tantrum.
It's called separation anxiety, a condition in which a child becomes fearful and/or nervous when away from home or separated from a loved one, usually a parent or other caregiver. Experts say it's part of the developmental phase and usually occurs between six months and two years of age.
The condition stems from fears that a parent who leaves may never come back. That fear causes great distress to the child, manifesting itself in bouts of crying and fitful tempers. Some children can even develop physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches as a result, which may interfere with normal activities such as going to school or playing with other children.
Dr Christine Hammond-Gabbadon explained that parents shouldn't be worried about separation anxiety in toddlers and pre-schoolers up to age two. It is cause for concern, however, if the school-aged child is still suffering from the condition to the point where it interferes with his or her normal activities.
"Babies don't have a sense of time, so when they don't see you, they start to get anxious," she said.
But for older children going off to school for the first time, you must resist the urge to give in, she cautioned.
"You will eventually have to leave your child alone, so resist the urge to turn back and pick her up and stay with her when you hand her over to the babysitter," Dr Hammond-Gabbadon said. "It might be painful, but you have to allow her to become independent."
She suggests that you keep your goodbyes brief.
"If you have to leave your baby for a while, do not spend a long time telling her goodbye and playing with her to placate her before leaving," she advised. "Instead, give her a kiss and a quick goodbye and leave. You risk the chance of getting your baby too emotional when you extend your departure to play with her and then when she gets excited, you leave."
It is all right, she said, for younger children to have goodbye toys.
"You can placate your baby by getting her a toy that she finds particularly interesting. Hand it to her each morning when you are leaving. Hopefully she will grow attached to the toy and use it for comfort while you are gone."
Other ways of dealing with separation anxiety in your child are:
* Stay calm and reassure your child that you will be back.
* Tell her when you will be back.
* Enure that you return at the time you said you would, and point out to the child that you kept your word. This will build trust for the next day.
* Most children will calm down quickly and begin to go about their daily routines after you have left. In other cases, it helps to leave a cherished object your child can use for comfort while you're away.