Parenting Kids Through Separation Anxiety During Childhood and Adolescence
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
During the first three years of life, kids are just
beginning to understand that their parents have not vanished when they can no
longer be seen. Some children take longer than others to understand this. Those
who find this difficult often experience separation anxiety, feelings that
their parents are absent and cannot be reached. They feel alone and sometimes
abandoned. Parents can take several steps to ease the transitions:
you know you will be stepping out of the room, simply explain where you are
going and when you’ll be back so kids begin to understand time passing doesn’t
mean you have disappeared.
games that practice appearing and disappearing like hide and seek. You will
discover the children want to play this game endlessly as they are mastering
it is bedtime, explain to the child that they will stay in their beds while you
go into your room or living room. Make sure they know where you are and that
they can call you to have you reappear. Develop regular routines such as
reading to your child before sleep, so they know what to count on as occurring
before you take your leave.
you are a working parent and your child is being taken to day care, make sure
they are attached to one specific person at the day care center who is their
‘go to’ person when they feel anxious. Let them know that this person can call
you as needed during the day to re-establish contact, until the separation
anxiety wanes. A quick phone call can ease a troubled mind that you have not
vanished when they hear your voice.
kids transitional objects such as dolls, stuffed animals, favorite toys to keep
by their side when they separate from you. These objects serve to replace your
presence with persistent usage. It’s fine to even pack the item in a back pack
so the child knows the object is nearby and reachable.
some after school activities so the youngsters get used to being dropped off
and picked up at regular times.
play dates away from home again so youngsters get used to being cared for by
Children in elementary school, middle
school, and even high school can experience separation anxiety when they are
going through transitions such as a change in school, change in residence, separation
and divorce of parents, changes in living conditions due to marital changes,
developmental changes such as puberty, and any traumas or losses in their
Older teens may experience separation
anxiety when they anticipate going away to college even if they have had
earlier separations from home which are shorter in duration such as summer
athletic camps or enrichment camps. The prospect of living on one’s own with a
stranger who is a roommate can cause undue anxiety.
Steps to Ease Transitions may include
any changes well ahead of time, so that the child is prepared for the change.
your child’s clinginess or mood shifts as they are approaching changes.
kids can articulate their anxieties, so listen attentively and make plans to
ease transitions such as explaining parents’ whereabouts at all times.
working parents can show the children where their office is and help them
understand how much time it takes to go from home to work and back.
can be visited to acquaint your teens with new living environments.
of college campuses can be viewed to also acquaint your teens with potential
your prospective college student facebook potential roommates and if they are
close to home arrange a visit.
to your youngsters that transitions cause anxiety for many kids, so they can
expect that they are not alone in their feelings and that time heals these
shifts in adjustments to new environments and people. Let them know that they
can’t expect to feel comfortable quickly, especially kids who have shown
separation anxiety when they were younger. Then they are not scared when the
anxiety persists for a few weeks.
These various suggestions ease separation anxiety
appreciably. Parents can also use the term, separation anxiety, so kids
understand what feelings they are experiencing. Putting anxiety in words helps
kids cope because then they can discuss their distress with a vocabulary that
makes sense to them. Always reassure your youngster that separation anxiety is
normal for many kids and that in time as they get used to new environments and
adults and kids, the tension wanes. This gives them hope for relaxing in
several weeks. These discussions build the parent-child relationship which in
itself eases separation anxiety.