Fear of abandonment is frightening for a toddler or preschooler.

Fear of Abandonment in Childhood Development

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Leaving your toddler or preschooler in the hands of a caregiver for a few hours while you work, run errands or bask in the glory of some much deserved "me time" can trigger a bout of separation anxiety in your tyke. Separation anxiety typically vanishes in short order and doesn't amount to a hill of beans compared to the deeper feelings associated with fear of abandonment. Fear of abandonment can be a living nightmare for a young child when he is forced to cope with major life events that can turn his predictable little world (and yours) upside down.

Death of a Loved One

A toddlers or preschooler see death of a loved one as a temporary parting of ways but it nevertheless makes her feel frightened and abandoned. Intense fear of being alone can make your tot want to sleep with you. She may even resist going to daycare or preschool because she wants to keep you within eyes range. Reassure her that you will pick her up as usual at the end of the day. A grieving 2- to-5-year old child may wet the bed, lose her appetite and generally be in a bad mood. Feelings of grief may persist on and off for quite a long time. Talk to your child's doctor if your toddler or preschooler fears being along for an extended period.

Separation and Divorce

If you are separated from your partner or going through a divorce your toddler or preschooler may feel abandoned -- especially by the parent who is leaving the family home. Your young child may feel sad and worry that you and your partner have stopped loving him, explains the University of North Carolina Children's Hospital. Schedule a little time each day to comfort your toddler or preschooler and remind him that both you and his father love him dearly and understand his concerns. Tell your tot as many times as necessary -- even if you think you sound like a broken record -- that he is in no way responsible for the split.


Going to the hospital for removal of tonsils and adenoids and other childhood surgeries can stir up fear of abandonment issues in children ages 2 to 5 years of age. Let your child know ahead of time if she will be spending the night at the hospital but tell her there's no need to worry because you will be with her, advises University of Rochester Medical Center. Most hospitals are cool about letting a parent stay the night with their child to help ease abandonment fears. Packing favorite toys, games and pictures can provide much needed comfort for your little one during her hospital stay. Older preschoolers may benefit from a pre-operative tour of the hospital and sitting through an orientation program to help take the mystery out of what it means to be in the hospital.

Natural Disasters

Helping your young child conquer fear of abandonment in the aftermath of a natural disaster can be a monumental task. Your toddler may express his shock and displeasure by being irritable and following you wherever you go. Abandonment symptoms following the wrath of Mother Nature also include crying spells, screaming, fear of the dark, loss of appetite and problems with bowel or bladder control. Your child is more likely to freak out when you are anxious and frightened. Do your best to handle the situation in a calm manner that will keep your toddler or preschooler from feeling a permanent sense of loss. Allow your young child to sleep near you and be available to touch, hug and give him your undivided attention.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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