Separation anxiety: Introduction
With the new school year that started a few weeks ago, I had quite a view questions from parents on how to deal with separation anxiety (in this instance I’m referring to the situation where the child is afraid to get separated from the parent and / or guardian – as there is also separation anxiety where the parent experiences anxiety when he / she has to be separated from the child). The most frequent example of so called separation anxiety is a child who doesn’t want you to leave after you dropped him at school.
Where should a parent start to identify the separation anxiety-trigger?
There could be many reasons why your child gets anxious when he has to be separated from you.
– The first possibility is that it can just be a phase or a stage that your child is going through.
– If the seperation anxiety is getting worse, take a look at the following:
* Does your child have a new teacher / caretaker at school?
* Did your child experience a negative situation at school, for example trouble at school / a fight with a teacher or a friend, etc.
* Any changes in your routine at home?
* Have dad, mom or your child’s teacher experienced a stressful situation?
* Could your child “pick up” any frightening remarks in a conversation between adults?
* Did your child see any frightening incident in a movie or dvd?
* Could your child notice a conflict between you as parents and / or partners?
* Did you, as adults, experience any exceptional stressful situation at work / in your personal life?
Above mentioned examples could cause feelings of insecurity in your child which can lead to separation anxiety.
Practical ideas on how to support your child in dealing with separation anxiety
– Always tell your child when you are planning to go out. To leave without first notifying your child, could harm the trust that your child has in you.
– Tell your child when you will be back.
– Show him your arrival time on a watch (even if he can’t read the time yet).
– Ensure your child that you will pick him up, for example at school, at an after school activity, at a friend’s house and do make sure that you will always stick to your word.
– If you will be late, due to unplanned circumstances,call the person who takes care of your child and ask him to inform your child that you will be late. Make sure that it won’t happen on a regular base.
– Small children can’t tell us how they feel. Therefore your child needs play and story telling.
Make your own story about the circumstances that triggers separation anxiety in your child. For example if your child throws a tantrum, or cries a lot when you drop him at school, tell him a bedtime story about a teddy bear who always cried a lot when his mom dropped him at school. His mom always told him at what time she would pick him up and she always kept her promise.
End the story in a positive way, for example: The teddy bear knew his mother will always stick to her promises, so the teddy bear didn’t cry anymore in the morning. He gave his mom a big hug and kiss as she went off to work and he went off to school. His teacher smiles when she sees him, as at school she will take good care of him, until his mom will be back to pick him up again.
Make your own good bye and hello song (a song with a happy tune and end) and sing it before your child goes to school every morning.
– Stick to your routine as it gives a child a sense of security and he will know what to expect.
– Talk to your child’s teacher, in order to share information about the separation anxiety and ask him / her for some help.
Separation anxiety: More help
If the seperation anxiety doesn’t get better and / or gets worse after about two weeks, it could be useful to visit an Educational Psychologist.