12 Experts and Parents Offer Tips for Your Child’s Separation Anxiety

Moderate levels of separation anxiety among children are a normal part of the developmental process. However, excessive anxiety regarding separation from those with whom the child has strong emotional bonds, such as parents, siblings, or a caregiver can be distressing and very disruptive. Twelve experts and parents offer their best advice on how to reduce or minimize a child’s separation anxiety.

Tip #1: Garden together

Separation anxiety can make your child feel very stressed and unstable which can, therefore, cause them to them putting up boundaries, even from you. To help bring these boundaries down again a good idea could be to spend more time doing enjoyable activities with your child to bond with them.

Gardening can be a fantastic idea to enjoy with your child! Even though winter is coming along you could start an indoor garden with your child and give them the responsibility to look after them with you. Such as growing some simple herbs.

This could be a fun task which will help them to focus on something other than the separation. Plus, gardening has been scientifically proven to help with stress and anxiety.

Tip #2: Rewiring the mind

The brain is a super computer and can figure out on its own how to overcome anxiety. The issue is simply how to give your brain instructions to do what you would like it to do. My advice is to have the child visualize arriving in school calmly and having a great day & arriving home proud, have them do this exercise several times a day. And this will wire the mind to make it a reality.

  • Benjamin Halpern, LCSW, is the President of the F.A.S.T. Center for personal development & developer of the Staying In Track Program TM for overcoming anxiety. Visit him online at www.benjaminhalpern.com.

Tip #3: Prepare for change

Talking to your child about what to expect from their new environment can go a long way in decreasing separation anxiety. If a child has a real image in their heads of the new space they are going to, it may end up feeling a lot less scary than if they did not know. It also helps to tell them who they will meet and what a typical day will be like for them. Additionally, talking about the space with an upbeat, positive tone can go a long way. If a child senses your own anxiety about the upcoming transition, they may internalize that and become more fearful.

  • Liz Morrison is a Manhattan-based psychotherapist with a successful mental health practice specializing in children, teens, parents, and families. Through this work, she helps both the client and the parent to work together on a variety of issues. Her approach focuses more on solutions where she provides concrete steps to help clients reach their goals. She is also am a consultant at a pre-school where she works with several children who have encountered symptoms of separation anxiety. Read more about her practice at www.LizMorrisonTherapy.com or visit her on social media: Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LizMorrisonTherapy or on Twitter at @LizMorrisonLCSW.

Tip #4: The kissing hand

There’s a lovely little children’s book called “The Kissing Hand” that introduces a sweet concept to help children with separation anxiety. In the book, a mama raccoon sends her child off to school for the evening, kissing the five fingers in his hand and his palm before he leaves — so that he can take his mama’s love with him. Whenever he misses his mother, he thinks about the kisses on his hand, and he can feel that she is there with him. With his kissing hand, he’s never alone. I used this with my kids for years, and they loved it — still do. With the kissing hand, even as young adults, I am always a presence in their lives.

  • Elaine Taylor-Klaus PCC is a parenting educator and coach and the co-Founder of ImpactADHD®. She is the author of “Parenting ADHD Now! Easy Invention Strategies to Empower Your ADHD Kids” and can be visited online at http://ImpactADHD.com.

Use the kissing hand technique to help with a child's separation anxiety

Tip #5: Weighted blankets

Weighted blankets can help calm a child who suffers from separation anxiety. The concept behind weighted blankets is simple, yet effective. The weighted blanket mimics the “back in the womb” experience and puts a slight pressure on the body to create the same sensation a person experiences when they receive a hug. The deep pressure touch created by the blanket causes the release of serotonin in the brain which is the “happy, feel good hormone”. After an increase in serotonin, melatonin is released which provides a calming effect and is what many of us feel when we get sleepy.Laura LeMond is the CEO and Founder of Mosaic Weighted Blankets®. For more

Tip #6: Don’t ignore aches and pains

Pressures to perform, compete, fit in with peers and manage stress have mounted in recent years, according to Dr. Chinwe Williams, associate professor at Argosy University in Atlanta, Georgia. The pressure cooker of modern education is taking a mental and emotional toll on children. Dr. Williams said kids are juggling their own pressures – but they’re also absorbing the financial stress that many parents face in an uneasy economy.

That’s difficult for them to cope with because they don’t have the language and, in some cases, the cognitive ability – the prefrontal cortex isn’t really developed until age 25, said Williams. So they aren’t really able to rationalize and be logical about what’s really happening. For some kids, they internalize those emotions without understanding what they mean. We’re more aware of [mental health problems], but also life is harder for kids and for adults.

Ninety-nine percent of my clients will share with me that they suffer from some sort of muscle ache or soreness in their neck or back, Williams said. So if your child comes to you one morning and says she doesn’t want to go to school because of a stomach ache – you may want to find out if there is something at school, such as a big test or a bully, which causes her anxiety.

Teachers can serve as a first line of defense in recognizing mental health problems in students. As a licensed professional counselor, said Williams, I am a huge advocate for any type of program that helps children understand that mental health should be a priority – just like any other aspect of their health.

  • Chinwe Williams, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, CPCS is an associate professor at Argosy University, Atlanta. She also has a private practice where she helps many of her adolescent patients deal with stress and anxiety. Visit her online at http://www.artinstitutes.edu.

Tip #7: Set up fun activities when you’re away

Don’t change plans because of your child’s anxiety. Be firm with boundaries and show your child they can’t control you with their anxiety. Many parents cancel dinner plans or stop going out in the evenings because they don’t want to cause their child to become anxious or upset. This behavior, although seemingly caring, is actually worsening the child’s anxiety. The child needs to learn they are okay separate from their parent(s), and that uncomfortable feelings pass.

You can them something to hold on to while you’re away, a smooth stone they can hold on to or a cozy blanket. An object that represents the parent’s love can be soothing and calming. You can also set up fun and distracting activities to do while you are away-baking, art and crafts, watch a funny movie, play a new board game.

  • Brooke Novick is a Marriage and Family Therapist on Long Island and can be visited at www.brookenovick.com. Her specialties include anxiety, increasing self-esteem and self-compassion, eating disorders, issues related to spirituality, family conflict, and working with individuals who want to process life and grow.

Tip #8: Stick to a routine

To help ease separation anxiety at any age, a set routine that you do every day can really help. Most parents find that a routine which includes some comforting affection, a warm, relaxed, and confident goodbye from mom or dad, and a predictably efficient exit without lingering provide the best foundation for learning to let go for the day. Smaller children may want a comfort item for the day, such as a special stuffed animal, and may need to be handed off to a caring adult who knows that the little one is having a hard time.

  • Kat Mindenhall is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Emotionally Focused Couples and Individual Therapist. She owns a private counseling group practice in Denver where she work primarily with relationship concerns. Visit her website at www.apeacefullifecounseling.com for more information about Kat and her practice. She also on Facebook (http://facebook.com/APeacefulLifeCounseling) posting tips and humor to support those family relationships.

Tip #9: Something to look forward to

When you return home from the hospital you will have the special ice cream, the TV in your room, etc. This special ice cream/ toy/ dress will be yours alone, you brother can’t have any of it. You place the focus on the return home, rather than how nice being in the hospital will be.

No different than a woman about to start chemotherapy – you flood the home with brochures about the trip to Italy you and she will take when she completes her chemotherapy. First day in school? I will pick you up and we will go and pick out your backpack.

Does this work? All my parents were on board and it certainly did work for the T and A patients. It also works for the chemotherapy patients. Mrs. Anders, widowed, was pressured by her son to select plans for their cruise after her chemotherapy. She did well.

When the mind/whole body is on pleasant pleasurable actions, there is significantly better healing.

Tip #10: A plush friend

Children suffering separation anxiety at night when they go to sleep can benefit greatly from having a cuddly plush toy they can play with during the day and then take to bed with them. This will build a bridge for them between daytime and night, so the separation from parents will be less severe. Even if their parents can’t be with them in bed through the night, their plush friend can be and will ease the feeling of loneliness the child might feel.

  • Eric Black is a father of four and the inspiration for his daughter’s business, Lyla Tov Monsters (www.lylatov.com), as well as having over twenty years of experience in the children’s entertainment industry. He occasionally tweets about parenting and New York City life as @big_daddy_black.

Plush toys help with a child's separation anxiety

Tip #11: Create a separation ritual

Children feel a sense of control over their day when they have a routine. A ritual will ease worry and remind your little one that every time we do this, I see mommy or daddy later. Your
child’s preschool could set up a basket at the door and each child can paint a stone with their name on it. When the child arrives for the day they put the rock in the basket signaling I’m here. Then at the end of the day, the child takes it out signaling I’m going home.

  • Dr. Angela Reiter, PsyD, is a child and adolescent clinical psychologist in Westchester County, NY and owns Dr. Angela Reiter PsyD PC & Associates. She has expertise in the areas of anxiety, parenting, ADHD and learning disabilities and provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological evaluations/testing. She can be followed online at http://Facebook.com/DrReiterPsyD.

Tip #12: Build excitement

Arrange one or more play dates with new classmate(s) before it starts. Then paint the picture of how much fun it will be to see them at school/daycare. Each day say, Only __ more days to go until you get to see your friends again! Allowing them to experience it before it happens will diminish anxiety.

  • Katie Evans is a hypnotherapist, in practice for over 30 years. Her passion is showing people how to Let your subconscious mind do some of life’s heavy lifting for you. She can be visited online at www.livinglitenow.com or followed on Twitter at @livinglitehypno.

By trying out these 12 tips from experts and parents the most effective ones in each individual situation can be identified and used to help manage your child’s separation anxiety. Remember that it is a pretty normal part of growing up, but can need special techniques if it becomes too problematic and interferes with the child or parents’ daily life and responsibilities.

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Latest update: December 11, 2016
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