In this blog, I share my tips as a mum and as a teacher for dealing with separation anxiety in children. These tips will help prepare your child to deal with the emotions that can come from being left at a workshop without mum or dad.
Picture this. You have booked what you think sounds like a great workshop for your child. They are excited and really looking forward to it. The day comes and you arrive excitedly. Then out of no where come the tears or they hide their head in your leg and refuse to come out! It may be unexpected or you may have been waiting for this response but I know from experience that this moment can be very stressful for everyone. How do you help your child?
Before the event
1 Talk about the event with your child.
This is a tip that is great for lots of reasons not just to deal with separation anxiety in children. Start by letting them know what will happen, who will be there (if you know) and how long it will be. If they have questions, contact the person running the event before and ask them. We often have questions before the workshop from parents. If they are going to a workshop or an event where they will be on their own maybe rehearse and role play questions they may ask another child sitting next to them to make friendship.
2 If they are nervous tell them that is normal.
A great idea is to share with them a time when you were nervous about going somewhere and how it went.
3 Teach them the STRENGTH HEROES pose.
Research has found that if you strike a pose like a super hero for two minutes you release neurons that calm you down. We use this in ALL our kids art classes and school incursions.
4 Don’t tell them you will pick them up if they don’t like it or if they get upset.
Instead set them up for success. Giving them the option won’t develop their resilience. Instead prepare them to cope and tell them they will be safe.
5 Pack a little message in their lunch box
Maybe even a treat in anticipation of them finding it at lunch. It may be “I am SO proud of you for conquering your fears.”
When you get there
6 Acknowledge their emotion.
Remind them that it is okay to be nervous or get upset if it happens. You may need to breathe yourself as it can be stressful for you too. It is useful for them to tell you how they are feeling. You can try assisting them by reflecting: “You look nervous. Is that how you are feeling?”
7 Let them experience the emotion.
Don’t tell them to stop crying or that they are being silly. This will not help separation anxiety in kids. Children will be more likely to calm down more quickly if you let them know its okay to be nervous or worried. If they start to cry, take them to the side (don’t leave the venue) give them a big hug to release that DOSE of feel good neurons and remind them to breathe slowly.
8 Tell the person that is running the event or whoever you are leaving them with.
But DO NOT apologise for their feelings, just tell them so they know.
9 Resist the urge to stay even for a little bit.
Settle them in and tell them who is picking them up if its not you. Then go.
The good news is that once they get over the nerves they have fun. We have had lots of kids in this situation but in the five years we have been running holiday programs we have only ever had one child who we had to get parents to pick up.
After the event
10 CELEBRATE that they have learnt a new life lesson. They did it!!!!
11 Acknowledge the effort
It can take a lot to overcome the emotion so say something like “I am really proud that you conquered your fears”
12 Help them reflect
This will help them to develop the confidence and is likely to reduce separation anxiety in children in the future.
Questions to ask: How did it feel? Did you feel better once you started?
Doing this will create an anchor or memory for the next time they are nervous. You can use this experience to build on their learning by reminding them how they conquered their fears. By preparing and letting your child feel emotions that come from trying something new you will develop resilience in your child and help separation anxiety in kids.