Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting Through Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is extremely common with children. Some start showing signs of it around 7 or 8 months of age. Other kids don’t demonstrate it until they’re older. The good news is that it’s a sign of healthy bonding. Young children have a hard time understanding that when you disappear, you’ll be back soon! All they know is that the one they love most in the world is leaving them. It can be tough on the child and, often, even tougher on the parents who have to peel those adorable little arms from their shoulders and hand them over to another caretaker. My twins are almost five, and they still give me a hard time some days when I drop them off at preschool, even though they’ve been at the same school for three years and love it there. Their teacher tells me they’re fine about a minute after I’m gone, but it’s still stressful dropping them off each day, not knowing if they’ll leave me with a smile or tears.

It’s tempting to try to sneak out the door when dropping your children off at school or daycare, but experts say that this will cause even more problems in the future. Instead, it’s best to give your child a reassuring kiss, tell her that you’ll be back soon, firmly hand her over and leave. You might give her a time that she can understand for your return, such as, “I’ll pick you up soon after your afternoon nap.” (Just make sure you do as you say!) Most parents call the daycare provider and find that their child has settled down soon after they’ve left. In very rare cases, if your child continues to show signs of extreme stress, such as nightmares or physical ailments, you may need to have her evaluated for an anxiety disorder. But in the majority of cases, separation anxiety is just a phase your child will eventually overcome.

I recently came across a very cute book for preschoolers that helps them handle separation anxiety. Oscar the Pig: Mommy Goes to Work, by Megan Calhoun, shows children that it’s normal to experience anxiety when a parent leaves them with a caregiver. In the book, little Oscar is left in the care of Mrs. Tutu, a nanny hen, who takes him on a magical adventure to China via a magic egg! Of course, this is all imaginary fun, but it shows children that they can have a good time while Mommy’s away. And at the end of the day, she returns and showers him with “piggy kisses”! I read the story to my four-year-old twins, and they both loved it. You can read more about Oscar the Pig at www.oscarthepig.com as well as order on Amazon.

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