How to help a child with separation anxiety at school
Mum’s are all familiar with our children holding tightly to us on the first day at school or childcare and saying “Mum, don’t go!!” Pleadingly, they will cling to our legs and tears will fill their eyes, melting our hearts. For parents and the child, this is an emotionally torrid affair and is symptomatic of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is one form of Anxiety Disorder. It mostly happens in children, but can happen to adults too.
Circumstances in which SAD develops in children
Children get anxious when they are left in unfamiliar surrounding after spending all their time in a safe and settled environment. Their unease affects the parents too. Fear of separation can also lead to separation anxiety.
Symptoms of SAD
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- clinging to parents
- extreme and severe crying
- refusal to do things that require separation
- physical illness, such as headaches or vomiting
- violent, emotional temper tantrums
- refusal to go to school
- poor school performance
- failure to interact in a healthy manner with other children
- refusing to sleep alone
Tips for dealing with separation anxiety
Inevitably, starting school or childcare is a common source of anxiety. We offer here a few tips to minimize separation anxiety when your child is ready to start school or childcare:
1. Make a gradual transition!
Try to get gradual access for your kid when initially starting with childcare or school. If they are starting childcare, you should stay with them for one to two hours for the first few days. During this time, do activities jointly and then as the surroundings and people become familiar to the child, reduce the duration of your presence over a week’s time. When your child experiences the transition in small doses, there anxiousness on separation from you reduces.
2. Don’t sneak away!
Many parents believe that if they leave whilst the child is not looking, they will not feel anxious or overcome separation unease over time. When you run away, the child gets the impression that they should keep looking at you or you’ll disappear without warning.
3. Create a farewell ceremony!
A regular parting ceremony helps to reduce anxiety. It could be, a simple hug and kiss, or a squeeze on the shoulders. Regularly used, such gestures train the kids brain to recognize it as a goodbye and expect you to come back to them. Reassured, they will have less SAD, than if you sneak away when they are not looking.
4. Minimize stress before school begins!
Yes, we love our holidays, but we need to make sure that the child is settled at home before beginning school or childcare. If we transition immediately from holiday to school, the child may become unsettled and separation anxiety may increase. Instead, it is preferable that we plan to come back from holidays well in time, so that the child is settled at home before starting school or childcare. Once you have returned from holidays, try to create a peaceful environment at home to get your child well settled before the first day of school approaches.
5. Pay attention to emotional signals given by you!
Babies and toddlers between the age of 4-5 months get emotionally aware and start recognizing facial cues given by their parents. Your worries reflect on your face and the child becomes anxious seeing it, even though you may not say anything. So, if you feel anxiety or sadness, smile and move on.
SAD is quite common among young children between the age of 8 months to 5-6 years. Some of the tips above should help you deal with separation anxiety being experienced by your child. If you still need help, please feel free to book an appointment with one of our psychologists.