Surviving Separation Anxiety: Helping Children Cope

Surviving Separation Anxiety: Helping Children Cope

Helping a child through separation anxiety is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. When your child experiences intense distress at being away from you, it pulls at your heartstrings. You want to scoop them up and take away all their fears and worries. However, some uneasiness around separation is a normal part of development. With sensitivity and compassion, you can guide your child to greater confidence and independence.

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Surviving Separation Anxiety: Helping Children Cope

Starting School or Nursery

The first day of school or nursery can be incredibly stressful for children. As a parent, you can take steps to make this transition easier on your child.

  • Prepare them in advance – Talk positively about school and what they can look forward to. Read books and watch shows that feature school settings. Drive by the school so they can see it. Meet the teacher beforehand if possible.
  • Develop a goodbye routine – Come up with a special handshake, saying, or gesture to say goodbye. This gives them something consistent and familiar at drop-off.
  • Don’t linger – As hard as it is, don’t drag out the goodbye. Reassure them you will be back, say your routine goodbye, and go. Lingering can increase anxiety.
  • Connect afterwards – Ask them who they played with, what games they liked best, or what they ate for lunch. Show interest in their day.
  • Stick to a routine – Keep school morning routines consistent. Kids thrive on predictability.

Separation from Parents

Being away from parents can be very difficult for children with separation anxiety. There are several ways you can make time apart easier.

  • Leave something of yours – Give your child a special shirt that smells like you or a family photo for comfort.
  • Practise small separations – Start with short absences like running an errand or taking out the rubbish. Praise them when you return.
  • Use distraction – Have a caregiver engage them in play, crafts or activities while you are gone.
  • Reassure constantly – Remind them repeatedly that you will be back, they will be okay, and you love them.
  • Check in – Call home if you will be gone long. Just hearing your voice can be reassuring.
  • Establish trust – The more consistent and present you are, the more they will learn to trust you will come back. Be patient, it takes time.

If you are fostering in Surrey, there are additional steps you may need to take. Foster children may suffer from severe separation anxiety due to difficult past experiences with adults. Be extra patient, comforting and consistent. Try using transitional objects like a stuffed animal or favourite blanket to self-soothe. Work closely with their social worker or foster agency to learn their history and special needs.

Sleeping Alone

Moving to their own room and bed is a rite of passage that can be extremely challenging for anxious children. There are ways to smooth the transition from co-sleeping to independence.

  • Make their room inviting – Allow them to decorate their room with fun bedding, nightlights, books, and toys.
  • Use social stories – Read picture books and talk about the positives of having your own space.
  • Do daytime practice – Sit with them in their room during the day, have lunch in there, play games, read stories.
  • Take small steps – Start by sitting in their room as they fall asleep, then move to the doorway for a few days.
  • Use comfort objects – Give them snuggly stuffed animals or blankets to ease the transition.
  • Reward progress – Praise each small step, like falling asleep faster. Sticker charts tracking success work great.
  • Keep a bedtime routine – Whether it’s bath, book, song or whatever, keep a consistent and calming routine.

With patience and compassion, you can help your child gain independence and confidence. The goal is supporting them through this growth process, not pushing them too fast. Each child will get there at their own pace.

Surviving Separation Anxiety: Helping Children Cope

Managing Feelings

Separation anxiety can be overwhelming for children. They need help identifying and expressing their emotions in a healthy way.

  • Name feelings – Put words to what they are experiencing – scared, worried, nervous, sad.
  • Reassure them it’s normal – Explain that many kids feel this way and these are okay emotions to have.
  • Teach coping skills – Deep breathing, counting to 10, squeezing a stress ball, and talking it through.
  • Distract when needed – If emotions escalate, redirect their attention until they are calmer.
  • Model healthy responses – Remain calm and collected yourself. Let them see anxiety is temporary.
  • Be patient and consistent – Support them through the ups and downs. Change takes time.
  • Watch for red flags – Consult a doctor if their anxiety seems severe and unmanageable.

Separation anxiety differs for each child. Supporting them with compassion, consistency and coping tools promotes healthy emotional development. With time and practice, their confidence will grow.

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