One of the more difficult things for a parent to witness is their child crying and pleading for them to not leave or go to work. These tips will aid both you and your child in the transition to healthy separation. Anxiety is normal, we all experience it and to some extent it is adaptive. Your child knows that you are the protector and provider and therefore it is instinctual to want to cling and continue to ensure their own safety. Anxiety becomes maladaptive and intrusive in life when it begins to overtake your child′s thinking. It can be triggered by stressful events, new environments or routines, or may be picked up by children seeing their parents as anxiety ridden or overprotective. Symptoms of a separation anxiety disorder begin when your child′s anxiety becomes fearful and begins to impair their ability to function in a healthy way. There are several ways to aid children struggling with both healthy and more significant separation difficulties. One of the most important characteristics is teaching your child to use their words to identify their feelings (don′t discount their feelings with sayings such as "you′re okay." ) You should assist your child in putting words to the emotions they are experiencing which ultimately will aid in reducing their need to act out and tantrum. Other suggestions include:
• Learn! Become knowledgeable about developmentally appropriate symptoms of anxiety.
• Show consistency in your actions, surroundings, and caregivers. If possible have the alternative caregiver come to your home so your child is comfortable with his/her surroundings. If this is not an option allow your child to choose a transitional object to take with them, making them feel safe.
• Slowly increase your separation. Begin by only leaving for short periods of time and returning promptly. Then, slowly increase the time you are away from your child.
• Maintain control and your Cool! Prepare your child by telling them you are leaving and will return. Do not make this a lengthy process. Do not negotiate. Do not dawdle.
• Prepare! Develop a schedule for the day and let your child know when to expect the separation.
• Be conscious of your child′s schedule. If possible schedule separation times after naps or meals. Children tend to be less cranky and more accepting if they′re not tired and are full.
• Create a "good-bye" ritual. This gives your child a sense of routine, comfort, and introduces something fun. It can be as simple as routine hugs, waving, or a secret and special handshake.
• Hide your own anxiety! Children pick up on anxious parents, so wait to worry until you are outside and begin to develop your own healthy coping strategies.
Palm Beach Behavioral Health and Wellness serves the emotional and behavioral needs of children, adolescents and families in the Jupiter area. Dr. Larsen runs the Anxiety Clinic at PBBHW, along with Drs. Everson and Rials, who are both Florida Licensed Psychologists. Palm Beach Behavioral Health and Wellness offers individual, group and family therapy, in addition to psychological and psycho-educational testing services. They can be reached at (561) 429-2397 and pbbhw.com.