In our previous post, we touched on some helpful ways to prepare your child for child care if they struggle with separation anxiety. And while a few tips may help subside initial anxiety for them, we understand there is a lot more intentional work that needs to be done with a child to truly help them normalize into a school culture in order to be successful. Today we are going to hone in on more ways to help walk your child through the process, as well as help identify what may be a normal development response, versus a severe case of separation anxiety disorder. To finish we will cover the necessary steps to be taken if professional help is needed.
Any parent can identify with the tantrum episodes, clinginess, and wailing of a young child. Understanding the natural tendencies of separation anxiety in a child’s early developing years is key to knowing how to help ease those tendencies, and when to seek further help. Take note that these symptoms can start extremely early, even before their first birthday. To start, let’s cover the typical separation anxiety, and what you can do to help remedy it.
Having a child that cries when one, or both parents leave is common for children. It can take some up to an hour to normalize from the initial separation. Here are some healthy practices to start with a child struggling with normal separation anxiety:
Immediately putting your child in the hands of a caregiver all day, or even half of a day, is likely not the wisest approach. The best advice is to start small. Ask a caregiver to come for a couple hours while you run to the grocery store or other errands. Starting initially with brief periods of time and closer distances will help ease your child into the routine of child care. As they adjust, you can make the time frame a bit longer and include larger endeavors such as dinner and a movie, or some time to catch up with a friend. Which leads us to the next point…
When you choose a caregiver/babysitter/nanny for your child to help start the separation process, try to find one who can commit to longevity. Creating a consistent, dependable environment for the child to adapt to is crucial in developing a healthy separation. This also allows them to trust that while you are gone, they will be in the care of someone they are familiar with. Additionally, have them come to your home first. Keeping the surroundings consistent for your child is extremely helpful. As the process gets longer, this also helps the child adjust, knowing they can count on the same person to be with them while their parent/parents are gone.
As addressed in our previous post, creating a routine goodbye ritual is often very helpful in the separation process. Depending on your preferences, you can create a goodbye ritual that is funny, sweet, or encouraging. Make it as simple as a wave through the window, or kisses on the cheek with a phrase like, “What happens when mom (or dad) leave”, with a response of “they always come back.” Once this is set into motion, your child can be reassured and prepared for you leaving. To further benefit the process, once your goodbye ritual has been given, don’t hang around. Leaving when you say you are going to leave is necessary so your child can trust that you mean what you say, and will act on it.
Identifying the Disorder
Due to the symptoms of separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder being very similar, it can be difficult to indicate which is being expressed. Sometimes a child may just need more patience and understanding to adjust to a new routine or environment. That being said, one of the main indicators that there may be a bigger issue at hand, is the intensity of their expression of fear, and how it in turn affects their social life. One potential indicator is that the simple thought of the child’s guardians leaving them ignites the anxiety or fear, and can cause responses like pretending not to feel well or completely avoiding interaction with their peers.
Here are some of the common family related symptoms associated with separation anxiety disorder:
- Fearing the worst: If your child tends to jump to extremes of fearing that harm will come as a result of separation, it can be an indicator of a more serious issue. This can also include concern of a loved one becoming ill.
- Fear in their dreams: If your child is having night terrors about being separated from you, it could indicate a developing separation anxiety disorder.
- Fear of the unknown: This includes if your child is having repetitive fear of something happening that would make the separation a permanent reality. This can also cause your child to be reluctant to go to bed.
Some social life indicators of separation anxiety are:
- Avoiding school or childcare: Separation anxiety can make itself known if the child exemplifies an irrational fear of school, where the child will take extreme measures on any front so they are able to stay home.
- Attaching before separation: If your child follows you around the home or starts to get clingy at the mention of separation, or as it is happening, it could be an indicator of separation anxiety disorder. However, this can be a difficult one to claim as only a disorder. Try to monitor the child for other severe indications as well.
If you identify multiple signs of separation anxiety disorder, or what you think may be signs of it, it’s important to know some helpful and necessary ways to handle it. By educating yourself more with separation anxiety disorder you can learn how to help encourage a safe environment for your child. Let’s take a look at some of the ways to help in handling separation anxiety disorders with your children.
Education is Power
As is true with any disorder, the more you know, the better off you’ll be. Separation anxiety disorder is no different. Learning to understand a bit more of what your child may be experiencing personally can help you empathize with them. Understanding the intricacies of the disorder can also help parents give the child more grace when there is a sudden outburst, or desperation to avoid separation.
If your child is old enough to speak, try having conversation about what they are feeling. Not talking about it, whatever serious situation it may be, is never beneficial to you or your child. If they do infact have separation anxiety disorder, it’s likely your child may already feel alone or isolated. Allowing them to express how they are feeling verbally can help encourage them and remind them that you are there to listen and love them. Communication can help a child’s concerns and fears subside simply by being able to talk about them, even if they can’t fully verbalize how they feel.
Consistency Is Key
One of the best ways to help a child dealing with separation anxiety is to create a consistent schedule. Having consistency allows the child to develop trust of what’s coming next. In the event of something changing that will in turn affect the schedule, talk with them and discuss what the event will be and how that will affect the day. When it comes times for the separation, be prepared for it to be difficult for your child. Even though you have discussed any changes previously with them, transitions of any sort will still be difficult for them. If there is one parent the child separates from easier, have them be the one to handle any childcare or school separation.
When to Seek Help
So in the midst of all of this, how do you know when to look into professional help for your little one? While approaching tactics like the ones above can help your child who is struggling with separation, some still need to seek professional assistance. Symptoms that may point you to a professional can include, but are not limited to:
- A refusal to interact with other children or peers.
- The exaggeration of fear of leaving the house.
- Continued complaining of feeling ill.
- A consumption with the heaviness of guilt or fear.
Take note, if your child has experienced any sort of traumatic experience, these symptoms could be a result of what has happened. If you have moved recently, had a death of a loved one, or if you as the parent struggle with anxiety, it’s possible that your child is expressing these symptoms as the result of the trauma. In the case that you start to see these responses overnight, consider any recent major changes that could identify it as trauma versus separation anxiety disorder. If it is in fact trauma, you will want to see a trauma specialist.
At Yellow Brick Road, our team is here to nurture and encourage each child in their own individual growth. With a compassionate approach, we seek to help each child grow in their individuality and confidence through daily activities. Specializing in infants up to five year olds, our program ensures that your child will learn academic and social interactions, while he or she identifies personal likes and dislikes. Contact us today to learn more about our program or enroll your child online. At Yellow Brick Road, our mission is to provide a safe place to learn, explore, and grow.