Separation Anxiety


You're late to get where you need to go, and the child is screaming, clinging to your leg as he digs in with the sharpest finger nails you have ever felt. He looks up at you with those puppy-dog brown eyes and says, "Don't leave me!" At that point, you probably feel like the worst parent ever and wonder if you are doing permanent psychological damage. Will we end up on Dr. Phil?, you wonder. At this point, you try calming him down and telling him you will be right here and that he doesn't even need to stay if he doesn't want to. So of course he isn't going to stay! Maybe you decide to stay with him in the room. Rather than noticing that this helps him, however, you see he continues to cling that much more and cry. Let's say the child does start to calm down and you think you have succeeded. You take a deep breath, moving just a couple of fee away and he goes into hysterics all over again. Does this sound all too familiar? Any parent at one point will have a struggle with separation anxiety. Though we focus on the child's separation anxiety, there is often extreme anxiety on the parent's end that may be perpetuating the problematic exit. Parents often feel guilt for leaving their children. This guilt then makes the separation delayed and painful. Yes, the child may be genuinely distressed over the parent leaving but he or she will calm down and refocus much more easilyif the parent leaves quickly at the drop-off. A hug and a promise to return are all that is needed. In 1, 2, 3 Magic, Phelan notices that children only cry for an average of 80 seconds after their parents leave and then quickly settle into their new environment. Eighty seconds! That's not very long at all! When children know a parent is hovering, they know they can manipulate the situation to their advantage. This draws the ordeal out for minutes or even hours. Granted, for children with special needs or other unique circumstances there are additional things to consider. This is more in regards to typically functioning kids. Giving children the opportunity to figure things out for themselves will foster the traits and character you really do want them to have--joy, independence, confidence, and self-esteem. Stay focused on this at drop-off and the separation anxiety may not be quite as overwhelming.


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