As I opened Facebook on Monday morning, I saw lots of photos of children looking smartly dressed in their new uniform for their first day back at school. Children worry about their first day of school, but guess what, parents have separation anxiety too.
I am in touch with a lot of parents and even before school started, a Mum told me that her son was going to start secondary school and had spent the weekend worrying about what the first day will be like, which worried her. Whether it is nursery, reception or if they are moving a year group, secondary school, college or university, both parents and children go through some weird and strange feelings. It is appropriate for parents to worry about whether their child will manage without them and shouldn’t be confused with separation anxiety.
When parents experience separation anxiety, it may manifest as a lack of appetite or sleep and the parent feels like they need to be with their child and can’t stop thinking about their child. They feel that “I will not be OK without my attachment with my child” in much the same way as when a child has separation anxiety. Their thoughts are “I won’t be alright without the attachment to my parent.” However, whether consciously or unconsciously, what parents fail to be aware of is that they are actually anxious about their own well-being. They wonder, “Am I going to be OK? (without my child).”
These are feelings of a time of transition and letting go.
My Own Separation Anxiety
When my own daughter left for university, that was the first time I felt really alone. I actually went to see a therapist to talk about my feelings as I was not sleeping well and crying all the time. I never usually get headaches, but I was constantly in pain.
It was a weird and strange feeling saying goodbye to her at the university – I cried all the way home in the car on the motorway. I got a flood of memories of times when I had to leave her and trust that the authority figures that she will encounter will treat her fairly and as a unique individual.
I got a clear image of when I left her at a crèche when she was about 18 months old when I enrolled in a computer class to ensure that I kept up-to-date with technology at that time. She was only in the room next door but she cried and it pulled on my heart-strings. I felt so bad inside. The lady at the crèche said that she will be fine so I left. When I returned, she came and hugged me and she had been fine.
Other memories of letting go of her hand when she left for nursery, reception and all the other years also came flooding back…only this time, as she left for university, it was her that was consoling me. She told me she will be okay and to look after her Dad.
She was alright, and she has since returned from university. I couldn’t be more proud of my daughter who has grown up to be so independent and a good friend to me.
If you are also going through a similar situation, try the below tips, which I personally used, to help you through this tough time.
5 Tips For Parents To Cope With Separation Anxiety
#1 Allow yourself to feel anxious
As mentioned above, separation anxiety is closely linked with attachment – your healthy bond with your child means that you will feel discomfort when they are not there. You do not need to get rid of your worry or doubt – it can actually help you to make good parenting decisions.
#2 Stay busy
Plan ahead and schedule in activities to keep yourself busy for the first few days your child is away from you. This will help you to have less time to think about them being away from you. Think about all the fun activities you have had to put on hold while your child was young – you could go on a date with your partner, do sports or exercise or take a class to learn a new skill.
#3 Form a club
Get support from other parents – they are going through the same anxieties as you. It could help to get together to chat or enjoy your child-free time together. This would be great in person but Facebook parent groups can also help if that is more accessible for you.
#4 Never make your child feel guilty
Maintain a positive attitude around your child – they may pick up on your anxiety, but always encourage your child with optimism to help them feel good about their decisions.
#5 Exchange tokens with your child
Give a small meaningful gift to your child – it could be something you made or something you saw that made you think of them. Ask them to give you something small too – this helps you both have something to remind you of each other if you miss each other.
I hope this has helped to ease some of your separation anxiety. If you have used any tips, please let me know how and what the outcome was, I would love to connect with you.
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