Dealing with Separation Anxiety: Strategies for Parents and Educators
In this episode of Building Stronger Kids, Matt and Megin, Founders of KidStrong, sat down with KidStrong Director of Programming and Doctor of Physical Therapy, Patrick Ford to discuss separation anxiety and some strategies parents and educators can use to minimize the anxiety your child might be experiencing.
Separation anxiety is a normal phase of development. We often see kids have difficulty when it’s time to get on the floor for class and leave mom or dad in the lobby. We also see it with our own kids. And undoubtedly, all the extra time most of our kids have spent at home with mom and dad in 2020 is going to compound the issue of separation anxiety when school and activities start back up again.
Coach Patrick recently dealt with separation anxiety for the first time with his sweet daughter, Remington, when he was dropping her off at school. Thankfully, he was prepared. He was mindful of his own facial expressions and response to the situation, because his daughter would be looking to him for cues. So he kept a happy face on, and kept his goodbye brief, and left - knowing she’d likely be just fine shortly after he left (she was).
Let’s take a deeper look at separation anxiety. If we think about a young child’s life, it makes sense. They spend so much of their early years at home, surrounded by mom and dad and maybe a couple other people they have learned to trust. In this environment, with these people, they feel safe, and they know what to expect. But when thrust into a new environment, with new people, there are so many unknowns - and that can be scary to a child. Hence, the separation anxiety meltdown.
So how do we as parents set our kids up for successfully navigating these new situations?
Bring the hype. Set the tone ahead of time. Prepare your child for where they’re going, and be excited about it! Tell them about all the fun things they’ll get to do, the friends they’ll meet, and how awesome it will be!
Remember the goal. First, keep the end-goal in mind: for your child’s experience in this place to be a happy one.
Check your face. Be aware of your own reaction to the separation. Lend your child some confidence through your own words and body language.
Be brief. Don’t linger and draw out the goodbye. Follow your usual (short) goodbye routine, and don’t negotiate more time with your child. This only tends to make matters worse. When they don’t get what they want by throwing a fit, the fits tend to phase themselves out rather quickly.
The majority of kids will outgrow separation anxiety. It is a normal stage of development - it shows that our kids trust us and have developed a bond with us. But it can become detrimental. What do we do when older kids experience separation anxiety, to such a degree that it has an impact on their daily life and development?
Coach Patrick recommends slowly introducing separation at home - maybe first by moving away from your child, but remaining in view. Then by being in the next room where they can hear, but not see, you. The point is, slowly work up to the anxiety-inducing experience. This graded exposure teaches your child that they can master this experience, and that everything will be okay. They are safe, and mom and dad come back.
If you’d like to hear the full conversation with Patrick, head over to KidStrong University and start your free trial today.