From Tami: Separation Anxiety

School Bus Series - Timid about Saying Goodbye
Pretty much all children go through it at some point. Some outgrow it by the time they leave the toddler years, some continue into their teens. Separation anxiety. It can manifest in so many different ways—not wanting to go to school, to playdates, to birthday parties.

It is so hard, as a parent, to see your child so nervous and upset. Sometimes we want to shield them, and tell them that they don’t have to go. Sometimes, like with school, we have no choice but to walk away.

It is such a balancing act, trying to decide when to push the issue and when to let it lie, and it is different with every child.

I think of the ability of a child to separate from the parent is a skill, one that needs nurturing and cultivation just like any other skill. Some children are innately better at it, while some need more assistance. And, just like any skill, practice makes perfect.

I felt that it was very important for my kids to spread their wings as much as possible. School, obviously, was not optional. But I felt like birthday parties weren’t optional either. True, no one is taking attendance, but the birthday boy or girl is still counting on their friends to come. I would tell the kids how their friends were excited to see them and share their special day. I would remind them how sad they would be if their friends didn’t come to their parties, and how important reciprocity was in friendships and relationships. Finally, I was always sure to point out how much fun they always ended up having. And then I would leave, and leave them to forget about their anxiety and enjoy their cake.

Summer camp was a big one for me, too. I absolutely did not want the kids wasting their summers around the house. Different kids had different needs, and therefore did different things—but I wanted them all to do something. Some did as little as a week of ropes-courses at a local day camp; others spent a full summer away at a sleepaway camp. The important thing wasn’t what they did or where they did it, it was that the kids made summer memories that did not involve their parents, siblings, the TV, or the computer. I continue to see the benefits, summer after summer, as they grow both physically and emotionally.

And yet, also like any skill, pushing them too relentlessly can turn them off of it. A child who is forced to practice something repeatedly and without rest may end up resenting the activity and willfully refusing to engage in it.

Sometimes, you just have to let one go. When your kid is a nervous wreck, once in a while it is okay to cut some slack for both of you. I know how emotionally draining it can be when you have a very separation-averse child, both for you and for the child. If one day he doesn’t want to go to an event or a program without you, maybe you can join him. Or maybe he can stay home, just this once.

You don’t have to do it all, every time. I mean, you’re human. A Super-Mom, but human. And that’s just fine.


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