Does your child have separation anxiety? If so, this is a very common phenomenon, especially for children first leaving their parents! This blog will address mild separation anxiety and how to help your child cope and move past it.
First, what is separation anxiety? According to Psychology Today, separation anxiety is the fear of separation from a familiar location, object, or loved one. Common manifestations include outbursts, crying, withdrawal, refusal to leave home, recurrent nightmares, headaches, nausea, and the fear of losing a loved one (often the most troubling for a child). These symptoms can occur at any age, but they are most commonly observed at around 5 months, once the child learns people and things continue to exist once they cannot see them, this is also known as object permanence.
Knowing the symptoms and causes of separation anxiety are important to know when addressing it. I frequently tell parents, overcoming separation anxiety cannot be done without a plan. In my opinion, the two most important elements of a plan are consistency and practice.
Setting a consistent routine for your child, which includes regular drop-off and pick-up times, will provide your child confidence that you have not forgotten about them. It will also allow your child more freedom to play or learn while worrying less about the time or your status. Consistency in how your respond to your child’s separation anxiety is also important! For example, if you allow your child to miss school, come in late, or if you stay with him or her for prolonged periods of time, your child will learn that their maladaptive behavior, relative to impending separation, will make you “give in”, and over time, this will only exacerbate the issue. Additionally, avoid giving your child false-promises, scolding their behavior, belittling their feelings, or even sneaking away; this may worsen their anxiety or make them feel guilty. As a parent of a child who had separation anxiety, I understand this “tough-love” approach is very difficult, but it is the best thing you can do for your child.
Routinely practicing separation at home by yourself, with a babysitter, or a family member is also useful! For example, if you have to empty the dishwasher or fold the laundry, leave your child in a safe setting and reassure them you will be back shortly, then, most importantly, follow through and return within the given timeframe. Progressively increasing the variation in time and distance of separation will help your child transition to child care, sports, and ultimately, higher learning!
Guiding your child through their separation anxiety is an important step for normal psychosocial progression! It will require compassion, empathy, and continuous reinforcement. At Humpty Dumpty, we will work with you to ensure your child develops into a mature young adult.
Please feel free to comment below with your own experiences regarding separation anxiety!
Separation Anxiety. (2017, April 18). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/separation-anxiety
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