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Separation anxiety and other transitions

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.


Other transitions

- 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 

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