Seperation Anxiety in Children
It’s my first blog. It has to be special. These ‘firsts’ are so important and close to our heart. It is like an experience infused with the mixed flavors of nervousness, excitement, anxiety, happiness, insecurity, self-belief and so on. Year before last year, I experienced a lot of ‘firsts’ in my line of work of mentoring children- first public event, first birthday party, first play date etc. Every ‘first’ encounter threw a new challenge at me to keep the kids entertained and engaged. It’s so vital to deal with these pressures and come out strong.
When it comes to mothers, they get obsessed with all the ‘firsts’ their kid experiences.
“Oh my God! She rolled over for the first time.”
“You know what, he started crawling today.”
“My baby has finally learned how to walk.”
“Did you hear? She said ‘Mumma’ for the first time.”
Then, come out all the smartphones with a high-resolution camera to capture these precious moments. Well, I don’t blame them. It’s indeed the beauty of motherhood and the excitement is validated. Finally arrives the most challenging ‘first’- ‘First day at school.’ I distinctly remember the first day of the session at a pre-school where I interned. I smiled from ear to ear all excited to welcome the babies. But, it was short-lived. There was absolute mayhem when they entered. One bawling baby spread his distress like an epidemic in the entire class. They howled and cried like no tomorrow. For a moment, I second-guessed my decision to be a mentor. But, my passion got the better of my thoughts.
We set on a ‘Mission God Help Us’ and handled the children. It’s natural for babies to feel insecure, anxious and uncomfortable in a new environment especially if it’s the one without their mothers. I see that during my workshops too when mothers come to drop their children.
How should one deal with this separation anxiety? It’s a drill that needs to be continuously practiced to condition the children and reinforce it in their minds to allow gradual weaning. Different things work for different mothers. Sometimes, mothers get tempted to sneak out when the child is distracted. It’s definitely an easy way forward, but it risks the ‘trust factor’. The child is forced to think that his mother may simply vanish in thin air. It’s always recommended to say ‘Bye’ with an assurance that his mother is at his disposal whenever he needs her. The child may cry even more but, will be delighted to see the mother once she’s back after a short span and kept her promise.
At school, when the mothers are around to settle the children for the first few days,
- Inform them before leaving. For instance, “I am going to buy vegetables to cook you something yummy for dinner.” (Make sure you have them when you return.)
- Don’t have elaborate ‘Good Bye Ceremonies’. Make it quick and smooth instead of one last hug or a peck on the head. That makes separation even more difficult.
- Appear busy inside the class in your own work. Use a book or coloring or maybe a laptop. The child realizes that at school, Mumma and I, both do their own work.
- Stop looking out for the child. The moment he knows that he is being followed by your eyes, he needs you even more.
- Direct the child to their teacher if they come to you for any help. For example, to drink water, use the washroom or some activity. “At school, your teacher/Aunty knows everything. Mumma doesn’t know anything here.”
Gradually, the time limit of the mother’s absence is increased to a point where the child does not need his mother at school at all.
It is absolutely a necessity to acknowledge the child’s feeling. “You are feeling sad that Mumma is going.”
“You are feeling hurt /scared that Mumma is not here.”
Assure that Mumma will be back soon. This helps in deeper penetration into their minds.
One needs to understand that this anxiety is also a result of the fact that parents don’t spend quality time with the children due to which they are insecure and clingy. Even if its just an hour, the child should feel fully content.
Also, mothers have a habit of constantly instructing and stating the ‘No’s’ and the ‘don’ts’. It only causes fear and timidness. Just let them be far away from this protective shell.
Some things may work, some won’t. I know it’s easier said than done. The key is to always be ‘patient’ to make the child happy, comfortable and confident. Rest, he learns by himself.