How to deal with child separation anxiety
Separation anxiety in children is when they struggle with the absence of their primary caregiver, or close family member.
While we are well aware of children being affected by separation anxiety, we hear less about parents separation anxiety. Parents also struggle with strong and sometimes overwhelming feelings in relation to the potential and real absence of their children.
While parents mean everything to their children and children mean everything to their parents; they cannot provide everything for each other. A parent will need a financial income in order to provide food, clothes, etc. and their child cannot provide this. A child will need to socialise with children the same age in order to develop, and a parent cannot be the same as a group of children.
Parents and children have their own needs to address in order to grow and progress, and some needs will not be possible to achieve without including a separation.
There is no such thing as a child (or parent) being ready for a separation. But as we are all unique individuals, some of us can adjust quickly to a new situation and some of us take a little longer.
In order to have a smooth transition, here are a few tips:
- Talk about it Talking to your child and explaining the situation, what is going to happen or where you are going will settle your nerves and prepare your child.
- Don’t show your stress/anxiety Babies and children are programmed to pick up on every emotion because of their survival instincts. So if you are anxious about heading off, your child will detect it and it will increase their anxiousness and the child will find it harder to settle.
- Don’t sneak away It might seem easier to sneak off while your child is distracted, but this could make your child fearful you’ll disappear without notice at any time. Yes, there will probably be tears as you say goodbye, but make sure you explain to your child the situation properly before leaving. Something as simple as words or actions repeated each day, such as “I’ll see you later” or a kiss on the forehead, will help prepare your baby for your departure. Once you go, stay gone until it is time for pickup. Many parents come back to comfort their child when they start to cry, prolonging the goodbye and making the experience more traumatic for everyone.
- Keep yourself busy Find an activity that works for you in order to control your stress or anxiety. It could be anything from yoga, meditation, reading a book, grocery shopping, catching up with friends… as long as you are enjoying it. Remember that it is beneficial for you and your child to spend time away from each other. Whether you’ve hired a sitter, enlisted Grandparents to help, or chose a childcare setting for your first separation, trust yourself that you’ve made the right choice. You obviously put a lot of time and thought into finding the right caregiver for your little one, so don’t submerge yourself in guilt or second thoughts. You are doing a great job!
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