On Helping Kids Through Separation Anxiety

We have been back to school here in our corner of Sunny SoCal for about six weeks or so.  Yes I KNOW it is just barely September… don’t even get me started on that!  Fortunately we will have 3 2 1/2 – 3 week vacations during the year for my wife and I to adjust our schedules around… Anyway…

My youngest son has been having some separation anxiety over the summer which we have been finding ways to help him through, with the start of school his separation anxiety seemed to turn up a notch causing my wife and I a fair amount of heartache in its wake.

Dropping my son off at school for the first three weeks was an exercise in patience, pain, and positive thinking.  When you watch your child bawl because you are forcing them away from you (into the classroom), knowing that they feel abandoned by you (even though you know it is in their best interest), you really want to just grab them and hold them close and tell them they don’t have to go to school today.  Obviously that won’t work, you have to go to your job, your children need to go to school, and the reality is that this is an acute moment of stress that you have to overcome… shortly after that moment, your child becomes absorbed in the school environment, and your day absorbs you.  That 5 minutes of anguish that starts your day is forgotten… until the next morning.

Our approach on week three was to say goodbye at the gate where there were still tears, but his older brother (what a trooper) would walk him to has classroom and give him a hug before heading to his classroom.  We made a goal to work for a “No Cryday Friday”.  Each day it was OK to cry at the gate but that we would make a big effort to not cry on Friday.  Every morning we focused on one step at a time not the end result of being at school.  So we weren’t getting ready for school, we were eating breakfast, then getting dressed, then getting our backpack and lunch, then going to the car, then reading a book in the car, then walking to the gate , and then saying goodbye and going to school.  Our efforts paid off because on Friday we were able to separate with no crying.

The next week we  were on a family vacation that my wife had considered cancelling to avoid disrupting his schedule.  Ultimately we decided to go because we didn’t want to add the feeling of being punished to the mix. The Sunday before he went back he and I made a deal to try for a “No Cryday Week”.  He said he we would try but that he was nervous that he might have to cry anyway.  We used the same pattern of dropping him off at the gate, with his brother walking him in, and a lot of positive talk/reinforcement.  We have so far been able to get to school tear free for a week and a half.

I don’t think we have cured his separation anxiety but we can get to school and I don’t feel like a mean dad every morning…


5 thoughts on “On Helping Kids Through Separation Anxiety

  1. Hello! Separation anxiety is something that many people are living with daily, in fact it is more suffered by adults than by children. However in the case of children is intertwined with the guilt of the parents, which multiplies the anguish of the situation. However, I find it very interesting your technique of a “no cry friday”, I guess it gave you a much needed break from all the weekly anguish. And the idea of extending it for the whole week… brilliant!

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks for the reply, I am glad that you liked our “no Cry Day” approach… We haven’t figured out this separation anxiety thing out yet, but we’ll take each of the little successes.

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