How to Calm Your Child's Separation Anxiety
by Susie E. Caron © 5/17/15
Has your 4-6 year old child suddenly become clingy and difficult to drop off at school? Does he/she seem over anxious about being away from you? It’s called separation anxiety*. Most often it is due to some developmental changes your child may be going through. I am going to share some of those and 3 steps you can take to help your child regain their confident stride.
*(Note:This information is educational only. (see full disclaimer-right column). If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s behaviors, please do not hesitate to call your primary care physician and psychotherapist.)
Is your child stressed when you try to leave him/her somewhere?
Sometimes 4-6 year old children, who seemed to adjust well to school, baby sitters, and getting dropped off at friends’ homes, begin to show signs of stress when they have to leave the parent.
They may fuss a little or throw pretty significant tantrums and even claim to be ill. There are probably more reasons than we can count for the appearance of separation anxiety. However, I want to share the most common reasons to help you understand. Then I will give you three tips you can use to help your child move through this issue.
Little children do not know how to handle their feelings: fear, worry, anger.
These feelings come from their everyday struggle with life. Around 4-6 years, kids begin to be aware of things like people die, parents divorce and accidents happen. Because the parent is the trusted one they often turn toward you as the one who should be able to cure it all. However, your super cape just does not cover everything. As a result your child's bottled anger gets shoved out onto “bad guys, accidents, monsters” and all sorts of terrible things that could happen to destroy life as they know it. They do not ‘think’ all this out. They worry. So in their minds they reason: “If I can just stay close to Mom and Dad then none of these terrible things will take them away from me.”
What can parent's do to help their children?
Can you see how this kind of ‘separation anxiety’ can cause your children to really fuss about you leaving them anywhere? Sometimes this is even the reason they start climbing into bed with their parents at night, even after years of sleeping in their own beds. So what can you do? You need to address this in three ways: be ‘matter of fact’ about life and address their fears in a special way and offer something concrete for them to focus on.
Your attitude must be ‘matter of fact’ in nature. Don’t get all upset and embarrassed. When your child starts to fuss about not wanting to go to school for example, tell the truth. “I have a job to do and I need to go there. You also have a job to do and that’s to go to school (day care, sitters, bed, etc.) today.” Use this idea for other situations as well. Just tell the truth, without getting upset.
You want to try to guess what’s going on that’s making your child act fearful. Then directly address that fear.
Ask: You could ask, but he/she is not likely to answer because what is feared is more ‘felt’ than an actual ‘thought’. Instead, try to guess. You could say things like “I wonder if you worry that something could happen to me while you are at school (etc.) Watch for a response in your child’s eyes or behavior. Trust your instincts.
Address the fear: You could say “Well I promise you that when you are at school (or other) that I take really good care of myself. I put my seat belt on, I am careful at work. Besides I cannot wait to get home to see you so that _____________________.” What’s the blank for? This is the most important tip.
You will want to fill in the blank for a while, (maybe two weeks) with something concrete that your child will like and focus on. Kids operate in the concrete. So it is not enough of a guarantee for you to say “I will pick you up at 3 o’clock.” That’s too vague. Instead, watch what happens when you add things like “and when we get home we will play Candy Land.” Or “I’ll bring you a new book.” Or “We will take the sugar cookies we made over to Grandmas”
Hook their thoughts to a concrete object.
When you set up a concrete object (game, book, cookies) for them to focus on, they hang onto it and they believe you. In their minds they think, “Oh, if Mom (Dad) is bringing cookies to go to Grandmas, I KNOW she will come get me.) The same kind of offer works for bed time too. Just make it concrete so they have something to look forward to. You don’t have to promise a trip to an amusement park. A simple, ‘I’ll read your favorite book to you in the morning after you get dressed.” Works just fine.
I recognize this sounds too easy, but I have seen these three little changes make the difference in family after family. I believe it will work for yours as well.
Please share this important information with your friends on social and why not leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear your experience or questions.!
Twee' means you and me
Susie E. Caron
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!