Separation Anxiety: Fears and Hope
According to Kids Health and Mayo Clinic, there are more than 200,000 individuals in the US who experience separation anxiety per year. Though this is not a rare condition, the thought of experiencing it was a slight concern when my firstborn started pre-k. This thought was dismantled as he became excited about starting school at the age of 3 and looking forward day after day to going to school. As my second child entered school he followed suit. No worries for me, no separation anxiety. If anything, I was the one crying and tense at the fact that my babies were leaving me. Unlike babies, I grasp the concept of time; I know they will come home after school rather than stay overnight and/or never come home.
My third child did not grant me the grace my first two did. As he started pre-k3 I noticed the harsh reality that he may never like school or people as he made comments like: "I'm staying home forever," "I have no friends," or "I don't want to go to school." He cried everyday that be was dropped off and every night he had the same question that resulted in tears and I mean tears that made me question if he was being traumatize. I was consistent in my response, "yes you are going to school. Everyone your age goes to school, your brothers go to school, mommy and daddy went to school." He cried every school morning and every school night with the tremor and explicit fear in his voice and demeanor.
The therapist in me began to reflect on his experiences with separation to better understand what he was experiencing internally that had him so perplexed. I realized that our family recently went through numerous changes that may have caused him to feel as though he was losing his physical connection with my husband and I, his grandmother and his brother's. We moved from New Jersey to Georgia in stages that may have sent his emotion into a spiralling world wind. First he, my husband, my other two sons and I left his grandmother in New Jersey for a week. Then he went back to New Jersey for a month while my husband travelled back and forth then he and his grandmother joined his brothers an I in Georgia while my husband continued to travel back and forth.
Wow!! This must have been a lot for him to experience at such a young age. I became intentional in the way I communicated with him over the next 5 months. I spoke with colleagues to glean insight. I ensured my husband was on the same page as well as my mother. By the time he started school at 4 years old, he was off to a good start because his foundation was recognized and rearranged. I have hope that he will carry his experiences as a tool to overcome, help others, to realize that he is tenacious and have the ability to rewrite his script.
If you know someone who strughles with Separation Anxiety, here are some ways in which you can offer support.
- Create and maintain structure
- Be consistent even when it hurts you
- Keep your word
- Talk about you leaving before you actually do
- Read books with similar stories and discuss the content
-Tanya Ellis-Asbury, LPC,NCC-