Separation Anxiety…how do I deal with it? Do I get frustrated because my child is acting “unreasonable” or coddle them so much that they never overcome their fears? Separation Anxiety may be a short-lived phase, but your response to your child’s feelings, may be long lasting. You need to learn how to give them wings, without hurting their hearts. Here are a few simple ground rules, followed by 4 steps, to ensure you are building confidence and assurance into your child’s tender heart.
|Show & Tell at Israel’s first year in preschool. (A fun thing for children to do to help them get excited about going somewhere new is to send a “show & tell” each time until they are comfortable!)|
A FEW GROUND RULES:
1. Children are immature.
They have fears and feelings, just like we do as adults…but, they can’t always process them or put them into proper perspective yet. Talk through things to help them understand and reason. (p.s. that means talk…don’t lecture!) .
2. They may hop in and out of Separation Anxiety.
Your child may have the normal first-day jitters or, they may be fine for a few months and then SA hits them. It is not always predictable, it can happen out of the blue, even in circumstances where people or places aren’t new to your child. That’s normal.
3. Feelings matter. Always.
Never, ever, ever discount their feelings, because they are real. They are scared. When you discount their feelings, you can do some long-term damage. Be very careful with that. A wise thing to do would be to make sure to keep the conversation going. Ask them if there is a reason they don’t want to go. Don’t put ideas into their heads by suggesting things, but, you could ask, is there someone in your class that is not being nice? etc. (We’ve all heard of cases, where children have suffered abuse, but their parents were not receptive to the information. Though that is rare, please always be aware and vigilant.) SA is normally a part of a child’s normal fears and growing imagination. But, it is still always wise to listen to what your child has to say and never discount it.
Don’t berate, don’t lecture, don’t say, “don’t be silly”, or “don’t act like a baby”. All those things actually worsen the problem. They are under stress, so your job is to help them deal with the stress, a tounge lashing doesn’t help. Give them dignity. (p.s. they aren’t having fun either!)
|Israel & Bella going off to “Pajama Day”!|
4 STEPS IF YOUR CHILD IS SUFFERING FROM SEPARATION ANXIETY:
If this is a new situation or a new group they are joining, if possible, stay with them, help them to get acclimated and be able to process what it will look like next time when they are there alone. (obviously, if they aren’t suffering from SA, leave quickly.)
1. CALM. Get down on their level, look them in the eye, speak calmly and get them to calm down. If they are freaking out, you can’t reason with them yet.
2. FIND A FRIEND. Once they are calm, introduce them to someone who is warm and inviting and willing to stay by their side to help them get acclimated. An adult is usually preferable, because children obviously have no training and are naturally more self-absorbed.
3. STAY BUT SEPARATE. Tell them you are going to stay, that you will not sneak away, but that you are going to stand over there. (You have to find a way for them to be a part of the new group, without you, but still feel the security of you being there). Do NOT sneak away, no matter how tempting it may be, even if they seem fine. Be a parent of your word.
4. LEAVE QUICKLY WHEN YOU GET THE OK. When they look at you with a brave grin and give you a thumbs up (make sure you agree on a signal before standing apart from them), smile and wave and then, leave quickly, do not go to them again. If you hang around for even 30 more seconds or ask them again if they are OK, it will upset them all over and you will have to restart these steps from the beginning. uggg! 🙂
|Israel & Bella this year, on the first day of school! Oh, so big!!! 🙂|
A COUPLE STORIES:
My very social son Israel, never went through SA, through two years of preschool and kindergarten. But, then, one month in first grade, every time I tried dropping him off at school he collapsed into a bundle of tears. Go figure!
He knew his teacher and his friends, and because of that, he was embarrassed that his teachers and friends saw him crying. So, I would tell him, I will come back in a half an hour and check on you. If you are OK, just give me the thumbs up, if not, you can come home with me. He never came home, once he was in class with his friends, he was fine. But, he always knew I would come back, he knew if he couldn’t make it, I would be there. Not condemning him, but giving him grace, comfort and a hug. Because, don’t we all need a hug sometimes??
My daughter, on the other hand, was attending a new Awana’s group, she was scared and frantic, so I stayed with her for most of the first night, then I took her out. It helped to stay, because she was able to see what it would be like the next week. We talked about it a lot throughout the week and she said she was ready to do it.
But, once we got there the second night, the check-in line was long, so I knew I was in trouble. The longer it takes for me to leave, the more likely, she will begin feeling the SA. She was clinging to my arm, like I was going to run away. I asked her to let go of my arm, so we could talk. I got down on her level and got her to calm down. I told her I was going to stand over in the corner and watch her play the games and would not leave until she gave me the signal. Thankfully, one of the leaders was a gem and stayed with her the entire night. Bella tried waving me over to her a couple times, I just smiled and waved. After about 15 minutes, she gave me the thumbs up & I zoomed out quickly…she did great the rest of the night.
Every child is different, I hope this encourages you that SA is usually a short-lived phase. And even though it is not an enjoyable experience for you or your child, you can actually begin building a deeper bond and more communication, through your wise responses to their genuine fears.
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