Separation Anxiety Tips for Parents and Caregivers

As a result of seeing many children suffering from separation anxiety, I have found it helpful to give some out of session suggestive tips and activities to parents or caregivers, which provides ideas that can be used as a source of support when coping with their childs fears and anxieties of being separated from home and/or parents.

Parents understandably, are often at their wit's end when the problem has been going on for some time and tend to have tried one approach after another, often confusing themselves as well as their children. So it is with this in mind that I hope the following guidelines provided some initial support to you.

  • Try to keep a balance between being sensitive to your child's needs and not giving in to every demand or he or she will become still more dependent on you and gain even more (unconscious) control over you and the family's activities.
  • Remember that you are a human being and, try as you might to get it right, you will sometimes get it wrong. Don't beat yourself up; you are doing the best you can in what can sometimes seem like impossible and tiring circumstances.
  • When leaving your child at school, remind him or her that you will be back at a certain time and try to be there earlier than you said. Make sure you are NEVER LATE! If there is any possibility that you will be late, warn your child in advance. If necessary, phone and explain why you are delayed and when you will be there.
  • Tell your child frequently that you love him or her, and don't wait to be asked.
  • Give your child a photo of you to keep during the day when you are not there.
  • Try not to let your child shrink away from activities and thereby become isolated. For example, go with your child to a party and explain that you will stay for the first half hour and that he or she can stay for an additional half hour (or hour) without you. Let your child know who to go to if they need any help. Be certain to be back at the time you said. If your child seems to be content, you may want to offer the option of either staying for the last hour of the party on his or her own or leaving with you then.
  • Discuss outings beforehand. Once again, try to get the balance right, don't mention them too far in advance but don't suddenly announce activities at the last moment.
  • Ask the teacher to help by greeting your child as soon as he or she enters the class and by engaging him or her in an activity with other children immdiately upon arrival. This will help take your child's mind away from the creation of fearful thoughts and keep them distracted.
  • Make your child's life boring in its regularity so that there is no more uncertainty than there has to be. This may be a little inconvenient for you but it will undoubtedly help get your child through a difficult stage and guard against extending it. Get your child up at the same time, have the same breakfast routine, leave the house at the same time, and go to school by the same route. Don't get to school too early and cause them to hang around waiting, all this does is build up the anxiety.
  • Try to keep partings short and sweet. Always say goodbye. Never sneak out when your child isn't looking. You want to avoid uncertainty and make sure your child trusts you to do what you say you will do.
  • Explain in some detail how you will be spending your day, whether you are at work or at home, so that your child can form a mental picture of what you will be doing at any given time. You may want to make light of any journeys however, not mentioning any traffic stress.
  • Say that at a certain time of day or during a certain acitivity you will be thinking of him or her.
  • If your child doesn't want to do something without you, experiment with offering a boring alternative in a cheerful, matter of fact way, and then be prepared to accept whichever choice he or she makes with good grace. For example, if your child is anxious about somebody else escorting them to an activity, you might say, "Choice 1: Grandma and I can both take you to your swimming class. Grandma will stay for the whole time and I can stay for 5 minutes, and pick you up again afterwards. Then we'll go back to grandma's for tea. OR "Choice 2: You can miss the swimming and just come with me to take your brother to Cubs/Scouts/Football practise and sit and wait for him and then we will go straight home". If your child chooses to sit with you at Cubs/Scouts/Football, don't provide rewards at the unconsious level by giving lots of attention and cuddles. Obviously, don't punish him or her by being too distant either. Perhaps you could bring something to read or have a conversation on the phone in order to reinforce the boredom of the choice.
  • If you have plans to go out in the evening, be certain that the person looking after your child is someone trustworthy and with whom he or she feels safe. Confirm in advance the time you are leaving and the time you will be back, and make sure you stick to it. Hard though it may be, try not to respond to emotional blackmail.
  • Any time our child has responded in a positive, independent way, tell him or her you are proud and then give a little special attention.