5 simple ways to help kids overcome separation anxiety

Separation anxiety affects thousands of Australian children. While separation anxiety is common in toddlers, when your sensitive child is older and needs to manage the demands of preschool or school, it’s really important to give them the skills they need to be able to be apart from you for a period of time.

Here, Kids First director, experienced teacher and author, Sonja Walker, shares advice from her best-selling book, SCHOOL READY: A practical and supportive guide for parents with sensitive kids.

5 simple ways to help kids overcome separation anxiety

Separation Anxiety: Avoidance Behaviours

If your child has an impressive range of avoidance behaviours that have been making it hard to say goodbye for a while, it’s perfectly understandable that you are worried about how your son or daughter will cope at preschool or school.

Your anxious child may be an expert at …

  • Clinging ….
    You have your very own little limpet attached to your leg, arm, or any other part of your body that your child can get a grasp on

  • Crying …
    The sobbing may start even before you leave the house and reach a crescendo in the car or at the preschool or school gate

  • Tantrums …
    Your usually mild-mannered child displays a volcanic level of explosive screaming, fighting and object-throwing power as the time to part from you approaches

  • Headaches and Tummy Pains …
    Sick with worry, your child literally feels physically ill at the thought of leaving you

  • School or preschool refusal …
    Your child simply will not cooperate with anything that is related to a classroom, including getting dressed, getting into the car etc

  • Night-time fears …
    It’s been months, or even years, since your child slept through the night or in his or her own bed

Although you probably already know that separation anxiety is typical in very young children and have possibly read every book and article you could on about the subject, it doesn’t make it any easier in the heat of the moment.

When the other kids race into the preschool classroom with barely a “Bye Mum” and you are left struggling with a clingy, soggy limpet who refuses to let you out of their grasp, it’s easy to think that you are the only parent in the group who has to go through this kind of emotional ordeal every day.

Take heart, because you’re not.

Easy ways to help your child overcome separation anxiety

Separation Anxiety: Top tips

Separation anxiety isn’t just tough for kids; it’s a curly one for parents too! But fear not, here are five friendly tips that can make goodbyes a little less gloomy and a lot more manageable for your little trooper.

1. Create a Fun Goodbye Ritual

How about a secret handshake or a superhero hug? A little bit of fun can turn those tough goodbyes into something your child looks forward to. It’s like a little sprinkle of magic on a challenging moment.

2. Baby Steps are Big Steps

Start with short periods of being apart and then, bit by bit, stretch them out. It’s like dipping your toes in the water before taking the plunge. This way, your child learns that ‘hey, mum or dad always come back!’

3. Safe Space Practice

Try having your child spend a little time away from you in a comfy, familiar place. Maybe it’s with a beloved grandparent or a favourite family friend. It’s like a rehearsal for the bigger stage of school or preschool.

4. Chat and Plan

Have a casual chat with your child about what will happen while you’re apart. Talk about the fun stuff they’ll do and who they’ll be with. Knowing what to expect can turn a mountain of worry into a molehill of mild concern.

5. Be their Cheerleader

When your child nails it, even if it’s just for a short while, celebrate that win! A high five, a proud smile, or a ‘you did great’ can do wonders. Overcoming separation anxiety is all about cheering on those brave, small steps.

What to do if your child needs more help

Keep in mind, if the going gets really tough and your child’s separation anxiety is preventing them from enjoying the things their friends take for granted, help is just a call away.

Your child’s teacher, school counselor or a member of the Learning Support Team may be able to offer valuable guidance to help get your child through the school gate.

Kids First’s highly qualified team of psychologists is also here to help. With years of experience and training in the Cool Kids Anxiety Program, you and your child are welcome to join us for individual, family or small group supports.

Contact us on 9938 5419 or find out more about our Psychology and Counselling services here.

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