Separation Anxiety – 9 Ways to Overcome it
It can be heartbreaking as the new school year begins and you know the cries of “Mommy, please stay a little longer” will make drop-off an emotionally draining experience. Worse, after a long summer – you’re going to miss enjoying the easy, fun, and unstructured days together at home.
Separation anxiety affects children and parents alike. Let’s take a look at these 10 effective strategies you can use to make this transition a less stressful experience for both of you.
1) Get them Used to it Slowly
Regardless the age of your child; they’re going to be anxious about starting school. Your child is going to have to get used to new teachers, new classmates, and a new routine.
For preschool and kindergarten aged children, the best way to deal with this is by practicing the separation process. Try dropping your child off at grandma’s (or even a playdate) for a solo visit a few times before the big day. You’ll both get used to saying goodbye.
For older children; start getting them into the school year routine a couple of weeks out. Get them to bed and wake them on the ‘school day’ schedule, and get them engaged with school prep. Also, joining you when you shop for their school supplies will provide a sense of control that will relieve school jitters.
2) Role Playing
This is one of the most effective ways to relieve the stress of separation anxiety. We are all instinctively apprehensive about facing the unknown.
Simply begin by going through the motions of the first day of school:
‘Drop off’ your preschooler/kindergartener at the kitchen or living room and say ‘goodbye’ as you leave for another room
Wake your elementary or middle school student up and run through dressing, eating and packing into the car or heading out for the bus
Get your high school freshman aged child to practice getting things packed and ready for the school day the night before and waking up at the right time to not be late. High school can be tough enough at the best of times – give your freshman year kid a chance to get used to the new routine ahead of time.
Familiarity with a new routine goes a long way to ending the anxiety that separating from home and parents can bring on that first day.
3) Communicate to Control Anxiety
This one is easy. You need to discuss school at home and answer any questions that they may have; your child needs to feel like they have a handle on what’s coming up. Explain the new schedule, what they can expect as the school day progresses, and what activities they can look forward to.
It can help control your separation fears if you remember what the first day of school felt like to you when you were that age. It turned out just fine, didn’t it?
4) Tell Your Child Where You’re Going
This is critically important for the parents of younger children.
Your preschooler needs to know that you’re going to be someplace that they understand after drop off. If your child understands that you’re going someplace known, such as work or home; they’ll feel more confident that you’ll come back safely to get them.
Don’t forget that separation anxiety is another way to fear the unknown – the more your child feels they know, the less they’ll fear being left at school.
5) Don’t Sneak Out!
Always say goodbye to very young children before leaving.
Many parents believe that simply leaving is the best way to avoid the tears and upset that separation can bring child and parent, but nothing could be further from the truth.
While you may not see it, there is a point when someone realizes that you’re nowhere to be seen and they’re alone in an unfamiliar environment; then the upset truly begins.
Always say goodbye so that you both have emotional closure and the child is prepared to face the day assured that you will be back.
6) Make a Special Calendar
This is always a very good idea; a countdown calendar is a fantastic way to prepare the whole family for a new routine.
Your children will have ample time to wrap their heads around the changes coming with the new school year, and you’ll be able to stay organized and prepare adequately to make the transition from lazy summer days to juggling getting everybody where they need to be when they need to be there.
7) Stop Feeling Guilty
It’s okay to feel guilty about leaving your child behind – whether you need to work all day, care for an aged parent or take care of household duties; you need that time.
Your child is in a safe place, with trusted people, and having a productive day in your absence. Use the time they’re at school to get things done so you can be a more attentive parent when they get home. We all need a break from child care duties from time to time.
8) Stay Busy
Being worried about your kid while they’re away is perfectly reasonable. Until you get back into the swing of things, try to stay busy.
Plan ahead to keep yourself occupied in the first days or even weeks afterward.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a few hours at school or staying at college; having your child away from you can bring on acute separation anxiety; keep your mind occupied during the day to relieve the natural worry that could make you miserable otherwise.
9) Exchange Mementos
Try exchanging special mementos that you and your child can hold onto during the time you’re both apart.
It can be anything at all; a photo, card, trinket or something you make by hand for each other. A unique item that has emotional significance will provide emotional support and a feeling that you’re not really alone.
Separation is a Normal Part of Life
Don’t forget that separation is a normal part of life; there will always be situations when you need to leave someone you love for a period of time. Be reassured by the fact that you did everything in your power to make sure your child, regardless of age, is well-prepared and safe while you’re apart.
Separation anxiety is a normal reaction to a significant change – by being proactive and maintaining a positive attitude, you can make this an opportunity for personal growth and forge an even stronger, and more mature emotional bond between you.