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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Separation Anxiety. What to do if your child struggles when you need to leave them.

As part of my work as a coach, when working with private clients, I regularly work with parents helping them to improve their child's confidence. A common problem that comes up is what to do if your child refuses to go to school or if they are distressed when you need go to work, or leave them for a few hours. This can be a huge problem for parents, and watching your child cry can be heart-breaking and for many the only solution is to bring them home or change your plans. I have helped parents develop effective strategies for helping their child, and themselves, in these high stress situations.

From a coaching perspective, we try to avoid getting too far into the why, or cause, of a problem as this can often bring us into a loop of focusing on the past rather than looking for a solution. We want to go from the present state to the desired state, which is to get your child to feel comfortable with you leaving them, or for them to feel comfortable with being in new surroundings without you. As a confidence coach and trainer my main focus is to help a client, either through private or business coaching, to feel empowered, and your child is no different.

As children we spend the majority of our time living under the control and decision making of our parents or primary care givers. As we grow we want to feel more in charge and capable of making our own decisions. This is essential for being a self-directed and independent adult. The terrible twos are filled with moments that highlight this struggle; the refusal to eat meals or specific foods, the regularly announced ‘no’ and the refusal to cooperate. In order for any of us to feel empowered we need to feel we have a choice, and if our parents leave we don’t feel we have any choice in that and so we feel helpless and disempowered. So, what can we do to change that?

The first thing we need is to make sure of is that the alternative to us being with our child is just as good or more enticing as us being around. When it comes to school regular reflection on what was good about their day is essential. Asking specific questions about what they learned and why it is useful, who they enjoyed spending time with and what was fun, helps them to see the positives of school or in fact any time spent without you. This type if reflection is especially effective if done at the end of the day as that is a good time to prepare what information we want the brain to keep when synapses are pruned as we sleep. For information on this see Helping your child to feel grateful and focus on the positives will build desire to be in a place without you and feel it is worthwhile.

The second thing we can do is to empower them to take control of their happiness by asking them questions about the next day or the next time you will be apart. Questions like, ‘What will you do to have fun while I’m gone?’ Or ‘What do you want to learn tomorrow?’ This helps them focus on their own power, as well as how they can choose how to be happy or what they can achieve. This is also something we can do ourselves when we have challenging events coming up in our own lives.

Finally, having a choice always helps us feel in control and it puts us in the place of finding solutions to our problems. Asking your child what they plan to do while you are apart and putting that plan in place helps your child to feel in charge of their time as well as helping them develop problem solving skills. As adults, we need to develop our own checks and balances for our own sense of wellbeing rather than looking to others for approval or affirmation, learning to look inward for your own needs and developing skills to provide for those needs yourself helps you to become more self-reliant. This is essential for your child to be independent and self-sufficient.

Remember, your child will also mirror your behaviour and so when they are very young the more relaxed you are, and the more trusting you appear to be, when others are around your child will help them to feel safe when others need to care for them in your absence. We all want to feel safe and your child will feel safe if you do too. Thanks for reading, I hope this was of use to you. Feel free to post in the comments or ask questions. For information on upcoming events or on coaching check out my Facebook page or website. You can also PM me or email or phone 0868373582, Elfreda

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