When your child struggles with separation anxiety it’s tough, very tough and not just for the child. As a parent with a young preschooler who struggles and as a teacher who has seen it all before, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic and my research on how to help your child through separation anxiety.
As you’re probably already aware, I have two daughters (Possum aged 6 years and Boo aged 3 years) and in many ways they are the same, but also very different. Possum never had any issues with separating from me when it came to attending kindergarten, Boo is the complete opposite.
Why is this happening?
For a really long time I was wondering why this was happening, why did she not want to spend all day playing with friends, painting, singing and enjoying the kindergarten outdoor playground. It was certainly seemed like more fun than watching me get the house work done.
It made me start questioning if something bad had happened at kindergarten or if I’d done something wrong in not helping her learn to separate from me earlier (can you hear the mummy guilt?). It has come down to the realisation for us that she just doesn’t like the idea of being away from me.
What is separation anxiety and what are the facts?
Separation anxiety is when a child doesn’t want to be separated from a parent or carer and this is often when they are in care of others. It’s their attempt to remain in what they feel is safe and familiar. Its important to know that –
- separation anxiety can happen to children of all ages
- it can vary in its severity
- it’s quite normal in children from 6 months of age
- it can go away with some time
- there are things you can do to help ease your child and their separation anxiety (phew!)
Here is a great article you might be interested to read – http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/separation_anxiety.html
How to help your child through separation anxiety
Let me completely clear, I’m absolutely no expert on this topic. I’ve just done lots of research and tried lots of different things to help Boo feel more comfortable and less anxious about separating from me. I also think that separation anxiety isn’t just one sided. Sheesh, if I could get everything done that needs to get done in my week, I would rather hang out with her too!
Above is a picture of Boo who is not happy about the idea of going to kinder. It breaks my heart, but I have found some of these strategies have helped us and eased her separation anxiety. Let me share them with you. If you have any more please add them to the comment box below.
Your obviously not silly enough to be leaving your child in a place that you feel they are in any danger so you might like to casually talk about all the great things about the teacher or features of where they are spending some time. “Mrs. Smith will be so excited to see you…”. Don’t be critical of their feelings. Respect how they are feeling and let them know they are being heard.
Tell them what to expect of their day away from you
Explain what their day is going to look like and in quite a lot of detail! This is what I used to suggest to parents as a teacher and it worked so well for most. So literally explaining, “We will walk up to the classroom together and put your bag on your hook…” can be incredibly comforting for a child.
Boo also really likes me to talk to her about what he day will be like and when I’ll be picking her up, so, ‘You’ll have a wonderful time playing with your friends, have some food, go outside to play, come inside for lunch, read a story and then I’ll pick you up!’.
Be organised and don’t rush
Avoid the extra stress of rushing around like a headless chook prior to dropping your child off. Be calm and organised. Give them lots of solid attention and love.
Consider giving your child something from home
You might like to give your child a photo book, drawing or something to remind them of you. Something they can look at to remind them of you and your love.
Almost on a whim I came up with this adorable idea of giving Boo a little love rock to take with her to kindergarten. To make it you very simply paint a heart on a rock with nail polish! So easy, I literally did it in 2 minutes, and for us, it has been the best thing for Boo’s separation anxiety.
She loves it because she can have it in her pocket or in her bag and it’s easily available to her. She love telling the teachers about it and showing it to her friends. It’s also a good size that it isn’t getting in anyones way and can be personalised to suit you and your child.
When you are leaving and separating from your child
Engage them in something fun before you leave
Consider your child’s interests and settle them into an activity that they would enjoy and be happy to do independently once you’re gone. You may need to stay and play for a little while. That always helps Boo settle.
Gather your support team
Be sure to talk to your child’s teacher or carer before leaving and quietly ask for their support as you leave. It will make it so much easier to make your final exit.
ALWAYS say goodbye (no matter how hard that moment is)
Nothing develops distrust in a child as to suddenly turn around a parent has already dashed out the door at the first opportunity and left them where they don’t want to be in the first place. Always, always, always let your child know that you are leaving, that they are loved and when you’ll be back.
Like ripping off a bandaid When you are ready to leave, tell your child you are leaving, give them a really good solid hug and kiss goodbye, tell them that you love them and you’ll be back to collect them. Without hesitation, leave straight away. Don’t hesitate or draw out the goodbye as you feed your child’s anxiety and make the situation worse!
Follow up I know that seeing your child upset is awful, just awful, so consider telephoning the centre or carer about 20 minutes after so see how they are settling.
Have a plan You might like to consider only being separated from your child for a shorter period of time initially, develop trust that you return and that they can have fun where you’ve left them. Once they feel more comfortable you can then extend your time away.
I recently shared the topic of separation anxiety in my close Facebook group, ‘Activities for Kids’ and there were so many great members that shared their own experience of their child dealing with separation anxiety and some really wonderful suggestions for managing and supporting their child through it. Check them out.
I’m thrilled to report that Boo has come a very long way in feeling more comfortable about separating from me. She does need some reassurance most days when she has kindergarten, but she will now go in quite happily and if she is upset she gets over it almost as soon as I’m out of sight.
What if nothing seems to be working for you and your child?
I think our approach has worked for us, but obviously all children are different and you need to be in some ways guided by them. If you feel your child is really struggling, nothing seems to be working and it has been going on for longer than seems appropriate, don’t hesitate to contact your maternal health nurse or doctor for advice.
If you have any other ideas of how to help a child cope with separation anxiety, please add them below!