Missing Out On Activities
For kids who have severe, persistent anxiety at separating, it doesnt get easier. These kids will have an unusually hard time saying goodbyeone mom we know has considered quitting her job because of the panic attacks her daughter has whenever she leaves for workbut the anxiety doesnt stop there.
The distress these kids feel about separating prevents them from participating in age appropriate activities and learning opportunities like joining sports teams or even in some cases attending school. The anxiety takes a social toll as wellthese are the nine-year-olds who still need mom to stand next to them during a birthday party or wont consider attending a sleepover unless it is being hosted at their own home.
Overattachment also persists at home, where children will often shadow one parent from room to room. Some kids with separation anxiety fear being left alone upstairs or sleeping alone in their beds. Parents tell us about kids who insist on sharing mom and dads bed at night or describe getting woken up like an alarm clock every morning at 5 or 6am when their child crawls into bed with them.
Managing Multiple Behaviors In The Classroom
The first day of school is one that teachers often view with a combination of excitement and nervousness themselves! When an entire class arrives at the door on the first day, expect multiple students to struggle in different ways.
- Prepare the most engaging, low-stress centers.
- Have a solid plan for the day, but be ready to pivot if necessary.
- Introduce a calm-down corner with soothing items, stuffed animals, and calm-down bottles.
- Choose a great story to read about the feelings students might be experiencing, like The Kissing Hand, Llama Llama Misses Mama, or Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine.
- Have a cubby, hook, or other designated space ready for each child to help them feel like they belong and to help parents locate where items are to go.
Enough Already What Can I Do
Lets face it: these tools are just as much about helping you as they are about helping your child. It hurts to see them sad, and nothing makes you feel worse as a parent than walking away from your baby when he or she is in tears. You instinct is to fix quickly and comfort. However, if you focus on a plan to help them get stronger and more resilient, as opposed to fixing their fear, youll both feel better in the long run.
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What Can I Do To Help With My Separation Anxiety
Before you leave us this time, know we didnt forget about you. Both moms and dads can get separation anxiety toomaybe even more than their kid! Here are a few tips to help you too.
Acknowledge your feelings: Ever hear the expression admitting it is half the battle? Its totally true. Recognize how and why youre feeling the way you are. Denying it helps no one.
It can help, and even be cathartic, to commiserate with people who know what youre going through. Many parents experience separation anxiety, and they may even appreciate the mutual venting session and support. And, they may have ideas to share of things that have helped them cope.
Stay busy: If its not you who is leaving to run errands, work, or have a night out, find and schedule some fun things to do, like hanging out with friends, seeing a movie, or taking that art class you always wanted try. Finding me time as a mommy is hard. So, try and relish it. You deserve it!
Have a fragrant keepsake of your kid: It may sound silly, but, trust us, it may calm your nerves. If youre out and about, hang on to a piece of clothing with your childs scent on it. Your sense of smell is the strongest one of your senses to trigger memories. So, smelling your kid on something can help you feel less distant from them. Of course, if youre at home and theyre away, you can likely pick their scent up in their room, closet, or by laying down in their bed.
The Step Ladder Approach
The step ladder approach is a step-by-step way of helping children with anxiety. This is a research based anxiety treatment used by mental health professionals.
It involves breaking down your childs fears into smaller steps , and working through them in order of easiest/least scary, to hardest/most scary.
Your child determines how long they stay at each step of the ladder. Its not a one and done type of technique. Theyll stay at each step until they feel less anxious, and then move up to the next step. They may need to repeat a step 100 times, or they may be ready to move up after just a couple times.
There are rewards for completing steps, with bigger rewards for bigger accomplishments. And, along the way youll be checking in and having your child rate their anxiety levels based on a 1-10 scale.
This works best when your child is directly involved in creating their step ladder.
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Create A Separation Plan With Your Child
This is one thing that really helped ease my own childs separation anxiety.
A separation plan is just a plan about how you will say goodbye when you and your child need to separate.
You might need multiple plans for different situations for example, one for when youre dropping them off at school and one for when youre leaving the house without them, etc.
This gives your child some control over how they separate from you.
For example, our separation plan was to wait in the car for the bell to ring, then wed walk inside together and Id give him 3 hugs at the elevator, then hed be the one to press the button for me to leave.
Later, it was changed to 3 hugs at the main door, as he became more comfortable leaving me for school, eventually separating went more and more smoothly.
Easing Separation Anxiety Disorder: Tips For School
For children with separation anxiety disorder, attending school can seem overwhelming and a refusal to go is commonplace. But by addressing any root causes for your childs avoidance of school and by making changes at school, though, you can help reduce your childs symptoms.
Help a child who has been absent from school return as quickly as possible. Even if a shorter school day is necessary initially, childrens symptoms are more likely to decrease when they discover that they can survive the separation.
Ask the school to accommodate your childs late arrival. If the school can be lenient about late arrival at first, it can give you and your child a little wiggle room to talk and separate at your childs slower pace.
Identify a safe place. Find a place at school where your child can go to reduce anxiety during stressful periods. Develop guidelines for appropriate use of the safe place.
Allow your child contact with home. At times of stress at school, a brief phone calla minute or twowith family may reduce separation anxiety.
Send notes for your child to read. You can place a note for your child in their lunch box or locker. A quick I love you! on a napkin can reassure a child.
Provide assistance to your child during interactions with peers. An adults help, whether it is from a teacher or counselor, may be beneficial for both your child and the other children theyre interacting with.
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Preparing Your Child For Preschool
For children who are prone to separation anxiety, feelings of distress when a parent isnt near tend to surface around 8 months old and can wax and wane through age 4 or 5. However, some children who are perfectly content in your absence as babies might develop separation anxiety in the face of a big life changelike a new sibling, a move, or yes, the start of preschool.
If your child tends to cling to you in social settings or has been showing some anxiety about starting preschool, consider taking special steps to prepare them for the big first day. While you may think avoiding the topic of school will reduce jitters, kids who know what to expect in certain situations and practice routines to get through them are more likely to feel a sense of stability.
Tms Therapy For Anxiety
TMS therapy is touted as the future in depression therapy.
Its actually more effective than medication for treating depression.
BUT, you know TMS also treats anxiety?
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a safe, highly effective treatment of many behavioral health conditions, like obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, and anxiety disorders.
Today well be covering the effectiveness of TMS for anxiety.
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When More Support Is Needed
If your child has significant issues with separation anxiety especially by school-age talk to your childs pediatrician. They will be able to give you additional coping strategies that may help your child. If needed, the pediatrician can also direct you to appropriate therapists or psychological resources in your community.
Katie K. Lockwood, MD, MEd, is an Attending Physician at CHOP Primary Care, South Philadelphia. Billie S. Schwartz, PhD, is an Attending Psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP.
Provide Evidence So That Your Childs Absence Is Authorised
Make clear that your child is not mentally well enough to attend, and obtain evidence of this from the GP, CAMHS or other health professional as early as you can.
Building a relationship with the attendance team at my sons school was hugely helpful, we were talking with them each day.
My son wasnt questioned about his absence when he did feel able to pop in for favourite lessons, helping to ease him back into full days of education.
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When To Talk To Your Pediatrician
Talk to your pediatrician if intense separation anxiety lingers into preschool, elementary school, or beyond and interferes with everyday life.
This could signal a rare, serious condition known as separation anxiety disorder. Kids with this disorder are fearful of change and being cut off from their family. Signs can include:
- excessive worry about being lost or kidnapped
- nightmares about separation
- fear of sleeping alone
- panic symptoms or panic attacks before a parent leaves
A mental health specialist can diagnose and treat separation anxiety disorder. Treatment can address physical symptoms and equip your child with coping strategies and problem-solving skills.
For most children, separation anxiety will pass. Even so, a specialist can also help your family implement a more reliable bedtime or daycare drop-off routine.
The first thing to do is reach out to your pediatrician, Dr. Espinosa-Louissaint says. They will help you determine if your child needs further evaluation, and if so, with whom.
Many Boston Childrens Primary Care Alliance practices offer support for mental and behavioral health. Find a practice near you.
How Does Separation Anxiety Develop
Children of any age can experience separation anxiety. Having a child who struggles with separation anxiety does not signify that you have made a mistake in your parenting tactics. It is more likely a sign that you have created a meaningful, secure relationship with your little one. It is important to remember that their behavior is completely normal and often not a direct result of any of your actions.
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Behaviors Related To School Refusal May Include:
- severe emotional distress about attending school
- the child often tries to persuade parents to allow them to stay home
- the child often attempts to conceal absence from parents
- child stays home during school hours because it is safe and secure
- child expresses willingness to do schoolwork and complies with completing work at home
The First Day Makes All The Difference In Avoiding Separation Anxiety
Though its normal for children to feel some separation anxiety when starting child care, there are things you can do as a parent to help ease the transition of the first day for you and your child. Talk to your childs caregiver about their routine and what to expect during drop-off and pickup. If possible, visit the child care facility together before your childs first day.
On the first day of child care, stay for a little while until your child is comfortable, then say goodbye and let them know youll be back later. Most importantly, be consistent with your goodbyes and pickups. Children thrive on routine, so the more predictable you can make the process, the easier it will be for everyone involved.
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When To Seek Professional Help
Your own patience and know-how can go a long way toward helping your child with separation anxiety disorder. But some kids with separation anxiety disorder may need professional intervention. To decide if you need to seek help for your child, look for red flags, or extreme symptoms that go beyond milder warning signs. These include:
- Age-inappropriate clinginess or tantrums.
- Withdrawal from friends, family, or peers.
- Preoccupation with intense fear or guilt.
- Constant complaints of physical sickness.
- Refusing to go to school for weeks.
- Excessive fear of leaving the house.
If your efforts to reduce these symptoms dont work, it may be the time to find a mental health specialist. Remember, these may also be symptoms of a trauma that your child has experienced. If this is the case, it is important to see a child trauma specialist.
Strategies To Support Your Child
Whether you know your child has struggled significantly with anxiety before, or they seem worried or anxious about going back to school, we offer several strategies below to help you navigate these feelings with them.
Validate your childs fears and anxieties. Feeling anxious about separating from the comfort of caregivers is a normal response to stressful events. When children express anxiety, let them know you hear them and understand. You can validate and normalize their feelings by saying: I get that you feel worried. I bet many other kids are feeling that way too.
Encourage positive self-talk. Help children develop a growth mindset that includes positive and productive statements such as: I am brave, I can do this. Positive self-talk has been linked to increased self-esteem in kids. Try practising this at home in the lead up to school, so its familiar and easy for kids to use these statements when they are separated from you or get anxious at school.
Stick to routines. The transition to a new school climate may feel unpredictable to children. This can result in increased anxiety. One way to reduce such anxiety is by having consistent routines at home. For example, stick to a consistent schedule when it comes to eating, bath time, screen time and bedtime. Research has found this has helped children experience more well-being during the pandemic.
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What Causes Separation Anxiety In Babies
Babies begin to understand this when they are 612 months old. However, because they do not have an understanding of time, they do not know when their caregiver will come back. This causes them to become afraid and agitated.
When children become more independent during toddlerhood, they may develop a greater awareness of separation from their caregiver. This may result in them going through another phase of separation anxiety.
In many cases, separation anxiety will fade naturally as a child gets older. However, certain factors can trigger or exacerbate it, such as:
- the arrival of a new sibling
- a new or unfamiliar childcare setting
- a new caregiver
The best way to approach separation anxiety is to address the anxiety and fear the infant feels. This can help them feel more comfortable with separation over time.
Implement A Regular Routine
Children thrive on routine. When they know what to expect, it is much easier for them to manage situations. This applies to how you say goodbye also. Create a little goodbye ritual such as a little song or a hug, kiss and a wave, always done in the same order and manner. This helps to create familiarity and comfort around saying goodbye.
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Keep Goodbyes Brief And Upbeat
Drawn-out goodbyes can prolong distress, so keep goodbyes brief and positive. It may help to create a goodbye ritual, such as a special handshake, or providing the child with a special blanket or toy to comfort them.
It is OK to comfort a child who is experiencing separation anxiety, but do not linger. Give them full attention and affection, and then leave.
Providing comfort and reassurance during the day may help ease nighttime separations. However, often a little extra support is necessary at bedtime to help children feel secure before they fall asleep.
It may help to:
- stick to a bedtime routine
- ensure they have a security toy or blanket with them
- stay calm and relaxed while saying goodnight, as children can detect their caregivers moods
- avoid sneaking out after they fall asleep this can cause distress if they wake up again
- comfort the child if they wake up by rubbing or patting them until they calm down, then leave
- when possible, avoid taking them out of the bed and rocking them to sleep
age of 3 years and begins to fade as the child develops a greater understanding that their caregiver will return. However, some children can continue to experience separation anxiety for longer periods.
When separation anxiety persists into later childhood, it is known as childhood separation anxiety disorder . This is a mental health condition that causes a level of separation anxiety that is unusual for the childs stage of development.