5 Ways to Help a Kid with Separation Anxiety
Whether you’re leaving an infant with a caregiver to head back to work, testing out a new daycare or dropping off a teary four-year-old at pre-school, separation anxiety—for both you and your child—can be an emotional gut-punch that sends you spinning. But there are healthy, helpful ways to cut the melancholy out of your mornings. Here are five.
Rip Off the Band-Aid
It may seem counterintuitive bordering on cruel, but a short and sweet goodbye—no stalling, no lingering glances, no “one more” hugs and (gulp) absolutely no going back if they start crying—should help your child more quickly focus on what lies ahead (Fun friends! I’m gonna eat that firetruck!) rather than who has left him behind.
Come Up With a Goodbye Ritual
Whether it’s a phrase (“See you later, alligator”) or an action (a hug with a high five), devise a plan with your kid for how to say goodbye. Then consistently repeat it every morning, without variation. As the family psychologist who advised us on this method explains, the ritual is reassuring: It lets the child know exactly what to expect, and since she helped come up with it, gives her a sense of control.
Use a Transitional Object
When kids have difficulty separating at school, daycare or camp, a small item from home can help. One social worker we spoke with recommends placing a family photo in their backpack. But the item doesn't even need to be literal; a favorite tiny Lego man stashed in his pants pocket could work wonders. So long as the object doesn’t become a classroom distraction (here’s where it’s key to clue in your teacher), it can keep him feeling connected.
Check Your Own Emotions
Unbeknownst to us, our tone and demeanor may be screaming “Are you OK?! Are you scared? I’m not sure you can handle this!” while our words are saying, “Bye honey, have a great day!” Even telling a sensitive child you will miss her can throw off her emotional equilibrium. So when saying goodbye, be calm, be confident and mean it (just think of all the coffee and sitting down that awaits you). Your child will read—and mirror—every one of your cues.
Prep—and praise—your kid
Books can be helpful; so can songs and videos. Acknowledge their feelings, reassure them that those feelings are normal, remind them that they overcame their fears the last time and praise them to the hills for every small, successful separation. You can never have too much positive reinforcement. You got this. Both of you.