It might have been a lovely moment the first time your child told you they didn’t want you to leave. Feeling sadness when seeing someone go is a sign of a loving and closely bonded relationship, and you might have given them reassurance and a few extra hugs before sending your child on their way. Many children experience fear regarding their parents leaving, but for some, these worries quickly snowball into more significant fears that need extra a little extra help to diminish.
When a child experiences even the mildest form of separation anxiety, it can impact more than just the child. The entire family feels the impact of this form of stress.
Separation anxiety (SAD) is a condition in which children become fearful and/or nervous when away from home or separated from a loved one. It is also quite normal in young children. Recent studies say that it may affect approximately 4%-5% of children in the U.S. ages 7 to 11 years. So, how do we spot separation anxiety in our children?
- There is an unrealistic and long-lasting worry that something terrible will happen to the caregiver/loved one/child if the child leaves
- Refusing to go to school to stay with the caregiver/loved one
- Refusing to go to sleep without the caregiver/loved one nearby or to sleep away from home
- Fear/anxiety of being alone
- Nightmares about being separated
- Complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches
- Repeated temper tantrums or pleading
- Intense fear or guilt
It can be incredibly stressful preparing a child with separation anxiety for school drop-off. Tuned into their caregiver’s emotions, children can often sense the anxiety you are feeling on top of their own, which can heighten their anxiety.
Provide a Reminder
Your child needs a reminder that you love them. This can be anything from a small keepsake or photo to a blanket that smells like you. Share a little of your signature perfume on their wrist in the morning to smell throughout the day whenever they begin to miss you and home.
Remember your child’s strengths
Take time away from your child’s worries and showcase your child’s strengths instead. Focus on how well your child handles and navigates difficult situations. Instead of solely focusing on your child’s fears, reinforce your child that they are brave, strong, and can do anything they put their mind to!
Healthy Coping Skills
Learn healthy coping skills such as taking deep inhales and long exhales. This can help children to calm their minds and bodies while dealing with their worries and stress. It also may help with banishing physiological symptoms such as head or stomach aches.
No long goodbyes
In some cases, the longer a parent stays around, the more a child’s anxiety rises. It can be hard to make a hasty exit and not stay to give extra hugs and kisses when a child is feeling anxious, but a brief and loving goodbye helps a child transition faster into his next activity. It might even help to practice your goodbyes at home before attempting the real thing, offering reassurance.
What can early childcare providers like The Nest Schools do to help?
- Remain calm and confident while distracting an upset child with an activity, allowing the caregiver to leave in a timely fashion.
- Work with your child’s teacher to establish a morning drop-off routine for your child. Consistency is key to building this repertoire.
- Observing developmental progress and tracking it for the caregiver.
- Allowing children to keep a familiar object, such as a teddy bear or blanket that smells like home/caregiver to snuggle for comfort.