Separation anxiety: when will it end?

Helplessness is a common symptom of depression. But, did you know that helplessness is something that occurs commonly in other situations as well? As children return to school many parents will feel this sense of helplessness watching their sons and daughters as they struggle to be brave walking into the school yard. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the anxiety parents feel when they realize that they have to re-establish school day routines (read that post here). Now that kids are back to school another type of anxiety may be plaguing parents and their kids.

Separation anxiety is defined as anxiety that arises when a child is separated from or anticipates being separated from their parent (often the mother). And when it occurs, it can leave a parent feeling completely helpless because though we want to comfort our kids, and perhaps even take them home (they can try again tomorrow, after all), we know that this is not always best thing for our children.

Think about the incredible feeling a child will have when they overcome their anxiety and brave the school yard to get to their class. Although incredibly difficult to watch, children who push through the anxiety and successfully make it through the day gain confidence and soon become children who are saying goodbye to their parents as they run to meet their friends in the yard.

If, as a parent, you are having difficulty letting your child experience the anxiety there are a few things you can do.

1. Talk to someone. Don’t do it alone. There are probably other mothers and fathers in the school drop off that are feeling the same way you do. Don’t just go home and think about it all day. Ask another parent over for coffee or to take a walk in the park.

2. Distract yourself. After you give hugs and kisses and tell your child that you’ll be back to get them after school, don’t just go home to an empty house. Go to the gym or get your errands done. This will take your mind off what happened at drop off and help the time until pickup pass a lot more quickly.

3. Offer yourself compassion. When our children experience sadness, anxiety, or pain we tend to blame ourselves. Instead of going over all the things you should have done to prepare them better or feeling guilty about having left them standing in the schoolyard sobbing, tell yourself that you are a good parent, that you love your child, and that you will spend some quality time cuddling when you pick them up later that day. Then, do something nice for yourself. Read a book, take a long, hot bath or have a nice cup of tea and relax.

Most of the time separation anxiety fades in time and children end up as excited to go to school as they are to come home in the evening (and sometimes, even more so). But, sometimes, the anxiety lasts longer and is more intense for both the child and parent. If you feel that you could use additional support, talking to a counsellor may help. To learn more, click here, use the form at the bottom of the page, or email me.