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  • Sarina Shirazee

Separation anxiety tips

Separation anxiety kicks in at about 6-8 months of age and stays in place until well over 5 - sometimes longer. The separation distress system is located in the lower brain and in early life it is genetically programmed to be hypersensitive, for basic survival purposes. It reflects a child’s attempts to hold on to what is safe (their primary caregiver and protector) in a big, scary world.

This distress should be taken seriously. Well-intentioned childcare workers and teachers may encourage parents to make a quick dash or try to distract a child from their distress - but this often makes things worse. So, what should you do?

* Show empathy - It's important to understand that children aren't manipulative or being difficult on purpose. Their feelings are genuine and should not be dismissed. Acknowledge their distress. Reassure them and let them know that you are there for them.

* Spend time with them - Unless you have to leave at a certain time, it is not better to make a quick dash and leave your child crying if you can stay for a while and help comfort them. If you do have to leave by a specific time, consider arriving earlier, to allow for a slower drop off.

* Details - Before the transition, talk about details of the change as much as possible. This way your child will know what to expect.

* Prior exposure - Introduce your child to the new environment/person/routine BEFORE it actually happens, e.g. visit their new kindy and teacher at least 3-4 times before commencing.

* Provide pictures - Show your child pictures of where they are going/what they are doing/new people beforehand.

* Transitional objects - Pack their bag with hugs and kisses, a photo book, a comfort toy.

* Consider who does the drop off - Children of all ages are usually ‘better’ at the drop off if it is not the primary attachment figure dropping them off. If someone else is available to do drop offs, it may be calmer and more successful.

* Manage your own emotions - Babies and children pick up on our anxieties and emotions. Aim to be as calm and positive as you can.


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