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Dealing with Separation Anxiety

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 1 of 10

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Remember: 8 tips to help kids cope with stress Typically, we think of babies and toddlers as being ripe for separation anxiety — the classic crying, weariness around strangers, and clinging behaviors tend to peak between six and 18 months in this age group, as little ones negotiate their attachment to parents with their newfound abilities and independence.

    But separation anxiety can pop up at any time throughout childhood (and, let’s face it, in adulthood too) — it may be a lifelong trait that your child struggles with, or a phase that coincides with a life transition like starting school or moving.

    If your school-age child has a hard time separating, consider these ideas to help him work it through and build the skills he needs to ease his troubles:

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 2 of 10

    1: Try to pinpoint your child’s triggers

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Try to pinpoint your child’s triggers Angst around leaving mom or dad tends to come with change and transition, for example, after a nice long period of being home on vacation or even after being sick. But it can also look worse when there are shifts going on at home, like one parent working longer hours, a new baby on the way, travel, moving, and
    so forth.

    Need to prep your kids for a new baby on the way?

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 3 of 10

    2: Don't assume that tummy-ache
    is fake

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Don't assume that tummy-ache is fake Separation anxiety is a real, physiological response that triggers the nervous system’s fight-or-flight system. Your kid might complain of a stomachache or shakiness, for example. Of course, he could be putting on a show, but it’s also very likely that these are real symptoms (even if they stem from a psychological place). If they subside when he stays home or go away once school starts, they probably had a mental root. But you can’t dismiss them — big feelings trip off genuine bodily sensations.

    For some kids, back-to-school means back to (real!) headaches

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 4 of 10

    3: Be sensitive to your kid's wiring

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Be sensitive to your kid's wiring Our little ones all come into the world with unique temperaments. For the most part, kids who are weary of new settings or strangers don’t have a “problem” — they have nervous systems that are more sensitive to novelty. You don’t have to fix this, you just want to support and challenge your child enough to help him grow and learn new skills (see below) so he has the confidence to play, explore, and pursue his interests.

    How sensitivity can help kids later on

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 5 of 10

    4: Remember the feeling? Put it
    in context

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Remember the feeling? Put it in context Anxiety and many other aspects of our personality are in part coded in our genes. That means that anxious kids tend to have at least one parent who has experience with the same feelings. If that’s you, use this to your advantage. You remember what it felt like to be shy or nervous going into a group or saying goodbye to parents, right? Talk about this openly with your child. Freestyle something at dinner or in the car, like, “I remember when I was a kid, I had really shy feelings.” Tell a story about yourself and what it was like. Talk about what helped you. Your child might stare at you blankly or appear like he’s not paying attention, but most likely it’s being filed away somewhere in his mind.

    Do moms get separation anxiety, too?

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 6 of 10

    5: Role play

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Role play Part of the anxiety about separating comes from the fact that being out in the world brings on a whole host of new people and experiences to deal with. One way to help is to practice social skills with your kid at home. For example, set up scenarios in the house that would come up in the real world (like asking a new friend to play, asking a teacher for help, or saying you don’t like something) and then act it out with your child or use dolls to carry on the conversation.

    Have a great playdate with new kids with these easy tips

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 7 of 10

    6: Teach tools to lower anxiety

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Teach tools to lower anxiety Practice belly breathing: ask your child to breathe in, all the way down to his belly for three counts, and then let it out for three counts, focusing his thoughts on the air coming in and going back out again. Exercises like these work because they have a calming effect on the nervous system.

    It’s a scary world! 10 ways to combat common fears

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 8 of 10

    7: Give words to the feelings

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Give words to the feelings One of the most important parts of helping kids work through separation anxiety (or any other difficult experience, for that matter), is identifying emotions. Observe what you see without judging or trying to make it better (just yet). For example, “Wow, I can see you really don’t want to go. I understand. It’s hard to leave sometimes. Is it making you nervous?” Depending on your child’s age and personality, he may be able to tell you how he’s feeling, or you can offer more suggestions.

    Do this step without offering a solution or being a cheerleader — in other words, try to hold back from saying “It’s okay, what’s the big deal? You’ll be fine.” Just describe what your kid is going through, then state the reality: “Wow, I can see you really don’t want to go. So you’re feeling nervous in your body? I’m going to be at work, and then I’m picking you up at three o’clock. Remember some of our tricks for when we have butterflies in our stomachs?”

    No more tantrums! Help your toddler express his feelings

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 9 of 10

    8: Remember: Avoidance won't help in the long run

    Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Remember: Avoidance won't help in the long run It’s tempting to spare your child the discomfort of separating, but cancelling a night out or skipping a school trip is likely to spread the anxiety and send the message that there truly is something for your child to worry about. After you’ve empathized, helped your child by recognizing the feelings, and given him some coping skills, it’s time to hold the line (in a loving way) and send a confident message that all will be okay, and that you’ll be there waiting for him when it’s over.

    Are you and your child ready to part ways for preschool?

  • Dealing with Separation Anxiety 10 of 10
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