Separation anxiety is something that all children go through at some stage as they develop, it is normal, and it is a reflection on the close relationship you have with your child. It is something that as a teacher I see all the time!
Whilst it is normal for a child to experience separation anxiety in the early years when faced with brand new situations, it can quickly grow into a serious and excessive habit that can interfere with your child’s daily routine and functioning – therefore it is essential to manage and prepare for separation anxiety before it becomes problematic or to rein it back in if it is already problematic.
What are the general warning signs of separation anxiety:
– Clinginess and not letting go of a family member (or nanny)
– Stomach aches and upsets that lead to vomiting
– Crying and tantrums
– Needing to take a favourite toy everywhere
– Refusing to speak to family members or teachers
– Not wanting to join social activities with other children
These signs are usually overcome quite quickly, and children adjust to new people and environments within a short time. How to help overcome separation anxiety when it comes to school, nursery or daycare:
– Work closely with the teacher – keep them updated (sleep, family information, new baby etc.)
– Make sure they get enough sleep
– Develop a clear morning routine so that the child feels safe and can predict what will happen next, when mum or dad will leave and when they will return
– Acknowledge their anxiety. Ask them to tell you what they’re feeling and if anything is worrying them
– Have a positive goodbye routine each morning (for example a high-five and a special goodbye hug, then waving goodbye through the window)
– Say ‘goodbye’, tell your child when you will be back and then go. Long goodbyes increase the anxiety and can make your child think that there is something unsafe or to be afraid of (hence you not leaving). Trust that the teacher will contact you if they remain upset.
– Increase the child’s feelings of safety and connectedness by letting them ring a familiar toy or photo from home – I often find having a spare ‘key’ left with the child does the trick, they know that you need the key at the end of the day and are reassured you will return for it (and them).
– Give it time, stick to the same routines no matter what, communicate with the teachers about any worries, concerns or changes
– Celebrate the special times your child has when you are not there (ask for a photo of them playing happily and talk about it with your child – showing them how it makes you feel so happy to see them happy).
If this continues beyond three weeks, get in contact with your local family doctor or paediatrician to check if there are any underlying issues and to seek further advice.