Anxiety over separation begins to reach a peak and begin to fade when a child is around five. You can’t necessary “stop” the reaction but you can help your child get through it. She’s really unable to communicate a feeling that is difficult to communicate with words. Talking about anxiety usually increases it so it seems like something difficult to approach. So don’t tell her not to be anxious! Often just playing with your child with dolls, different worries and fears come up through regular play. When parent tries to reassure a child, they often look anxious and worried themselves which makes the child feel that there really is something to be worried about. This happens when there are too many “Goodbyes”, too many “I’ll see you after school”, “I know you love to go to grand mom’s house”, “I love you”, etc. They hear the anxiety in your voice even while you’re trying to reassure them!
It is normal for children to sometimes feel anxious or insecure when separated from their parents. But separation anxiety usually has faded at around 5 years of age. If it’s getting more severe and beginning to affect a child’s life and activities that they enjoy, it can develop into separation anxiety disorder. More fears and anxieties can develop if the behavior continues. Children being all of the “what ifs”: What if something bad happens to my parents? What if they don’t pick me up after school? What if I get lost? What if my parents die?” If a child is showing more fear of being left alone and demanding that you sleep with her, getting increasingly upset, or having any of the above questions a behavioral therapist may be the direction you need to go.
Before you go in that direction, you may want to work on some of the following things yourself:
- You can shape some of the play with having two dolls talking to each other about something they are afraid of or don’t want to do. Don’t look at your daughter while doing this. Just play both roles for two different dolls. She’ll listen to you and will hear how the dolls resolve things. If she feels that you’re directing it toward her, she may clam up. But if she feels that the two dolls are talking to each other, it takes the pressure off of her!
- Keep your goodbyes short and sweet and don’t hang around! This just makes a child feel that there is really something to worry about!
- Keep a picture of you or your whole family in your child’s backpack. It just helps her feel that you’re a little closer!
- Kiss her hand before she leaves and tell her when she misses you she can put her hand against her face and it will be like getting another kiss.
- If your child is not staying in outside classes (like sports, dancing, etc.) and the behavior is so extreme that it’s disrupting the class you may need to take your child out for a while. You may find a class that is a group of moms and kids that will help her ease into more social interaction and engaging with others. Often playing sports together helps a child focus on the activity and build some confidence. Exercise is a great way to shake off anxiety and fear too! You’re trying to help her develop more independence and confidence.
- If you are out together and she’s clinging and hanging all over you, you need to ignore the behavior as much as you can. If you’re at a friend or relatives house and trying to talk and she doesn’t want to leave your side (where she used to do this), don’t give her much attention at all. You want to continue your conversation with the other adult almost as if she isn’t in the room. The object here is to just bore her and not feed into her attention seeking behavior. Often what starts are a real fear of separation expands itself into trying to get more attention. Tell her you are busy and if she wants to sit and play she can play with the other children in the house or she can just sit there near you and play but that you won’t have time to talk with her right now. Eventually the boredom sets in and kids begin to ease away. If she does, don’t make a comment about it! That usually brings a child running back and clinging again.
- It can be slow going but work toward easing her away with some of these tips. If things are getting worse instead of better, I really would suggest therapy to help you handle her behavior more appropriately and also help her!
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Kids helping kids: Enjoy this blog by an 8 year old girl! Kids can really teach parents too!
Have fun with your child. Check out a great calendar of events for kids.
Friday Sept. 30, Funtastic Fridays for Kids: family social event featuring an outdoor movie, bounce house and face painting 5-9 pm at ArtsPark at Young Circle, Hollywood. 954-921-3500