How to help your child manage separation anxiety

There is not many things more disturbing for a parent than seeing your child crying and clinging to you, when it's time to go to school. While it is not that unusual, it is still very disturbing for both you and your child. Here are some tips that may help your child better manage these times.

Steps you can take to lessen your child's anxiety

  1. Explain to your child that it is normal to sometimes feel anxious or afraid when alone or away from mom or dad for a day. Remind your child, gently, that he or she survived the last separation.
  2. Anticipate separation difficulty. Prepare your child in advance for any change in his/her schedule. Reassure them by taking them to the new school and show them the room they will be occupying, even the desk they will be sitting in.
  3. Be consistent. If your family's schedule is going to change, discuss it ahead of time with your child.
  4. Keep calm. Your children will take cues from you. If you are upset or worried, that tells them that there must be something to be worried about.
  5. Explain that this will pass and over several days, they will be feeling much better.
  6. Encourage them to make friends and to eat lunch with children they know.
  7. Help them to express what their fears are:
    Are they afraid something will happen to their parents when they are absent? If they are too young to express their feelings, have them draw you a picture of their fears. Then you can reassure them.
  8. Give them something that will comfort them. Send them a note in their lunch box, a happy face, a sticker, a family picture or a small toy.
  9. Offer them a reward for being brave for the day, e.g. some alone time with their mom, playing a video game, watching their favourite show with you, a special treat for dessert etc.
  10. Teach them relaxation exercises, like breathing exercises
  11. If they are having anxious thoughts, ask them if it is realistic or not. Have them remember that they were away from you last year and yet you were home every day and they stayed safe.
  12. The next day remind them that they have already been successful and they will be successful again today.

Learning to overcome anxiety is like exercise – you need to practice the skills regularly. Make them a habit.

If your efforts to reduce these symptoms don't work and the symptoms seem to be getting worse, it may be time to find a professional. Your child may have developed a Separation Anxiety Disorder. In this case cognitive/behavioural therapy given by a professional would be the best help for your child.

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