|Posted on February 15, 2017 at 2:40 PM|
Separation anxiety - what does it look like?
- Can occur any time from age 6 months through childhood
- Often occurs at the beginning but can begin later in the school year
- Symptoms: crying, tantrums, clinginess, physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting, etc.)
- Regressed behavior - accidents, thumb sucking, acting younger than their age
- Worse if a child is tired, hungry, or getting sick
Help for parents
Separation anxiety in children often starts with parents being nervous about leaving their child behind and/or missing their child, so here are some tips to help decrease your anxiety.
- Talk through your feelings / fears with a friend or your child's teacher
- Show your child around their new school
- Talk with other parents at the school
- Plan a coffee date or some other meeting with a friend after dropping their child off, so you have someone to talk to
Ways a parent can help a child before the transition
- Start with a warm up / trial run - visit the school together and play together
- Create a goodbye ritual - a special handshake, wave, high five, etc.
- Allow children to take a comfort object to school (such as a special toy)
- Listen to your child’s fears and other feelings
- Stay calm! If you are anxious or sad, your child will pick up on that
- Make sure you say goodbye to your child and don’t just sneak out, but don't make a big deal about leaving. A simple goodbye and see you later works.
- Be sure to allow enough time to properly say goodbye
Ways your child's school can help your child
- Distraction / redirection - have a teacher play with the child, or introduce them to a new friend who will play with them
- Ask teacher to offer choices to the child whenever possible
- Ask teacher to give positive reinforcement - praise the child for playing so well, being brave, or other efforts to separate
- Ask if they can have recovery time if needed - alone time, time sitting in a teacher’s lap, or other special time as appropriate.
- Set firm limits with your child; do not let them push you around. They do still need to integrate into the school day as soon as possible, and children find boundaries and limits reassuring.
- Children may become stubborn or defiant, or cry / melt down
- Offer choices, give positive reinforcement
- Listen to your child’s feelings; do not “bulldoze” over them or try to force them into transitions
- Explain things to your child before they happen (e.g. we are going to read a book, then we will wash our hands and then have a snack!)
When anxiety is severe…
- Some children still have a very hard time with separation anxiety or generalized anxiety
- If your child is becoming physically ill (e.g. vomiting, withdrawing/hiding in a corner, etc.) due to the anxiety, and you don’t see improvement within a few days, consider referring them for help
- Play therapy, talk therapy, and family counseling can all help immensely