While it is normal for children to feel a tinge of anxiety as they say goodbye to you, for some children separation anxiety can be an intense and persistent feeling that stops them from participating happily in everyday activities.
The Magic Coat reminds children that they have the skills and confidence, within themselves, to get through their day. For children with separation anxiety, however, Meshell and her friends on The Magic String of Shells will become one of their favourite Magic Coat characters.
Each shell represents someone that the child wants to stay close and connected to. When children are missing a particular person they can imagine that they are holding that person’s shell tightly in their hand, close their eyes and send their loving energy to that person, who in return sends a loving energy right back.
Children are told that this Magic String of Shells is unbreakable and can even reach heaven.
As a parent it can be hard to fully understand why a child can experience separation anxiety so intensely but, when I have spoken to children about their fears, the top three would be the following;
- Children are fearful that something will happen to their loved one while they are away
- Children feel that an unpredictable event such as kidnapping, natural disaster or an evil person will cause a permanent separation from their loved one
- Many children will have nightmares about being separated from their loved ones that replay every night.
Changes in a child’s environment, stress and an over anxious or over protective parent can also be causes of a child experiencing separation anxiety.
As a consequence of these fears children may;
- Refuse to go to school or other activities that take them away from their loved ones
- Be reluctant to go to sleep at night in case something happens to them or their loved ones during the night
- Complain of physical sickness such as headaches or stomach aches
- Cling to the caregiver and refuse to let go
As a parent you need to look at anything that has made your children feel unsafe or that may have happened to put your their world out of balance. This information is important as it will help you to understand what you need to do to help your children feel safe and secure once more.
Every parent knows how heartbreaking it can be to leave your children in distress but, as well as reminding your children to put on their Magic Coat everyday and to have Meshell and the Magic String of Shells with them, there are some other strategies that parents can use to help children work through their separation anxiety.
- Always listen and validate your children’s feelings
- Use the Worry Ladder ( see Parenting Through The Primary Years book- Available in the shop)
- Talk to your children about worst case scenarios and how they will still be okay regardless
- Provide as much consistency as possible throughout the day
- Set boundaries and rules for your children to adhere to at home
- Keep calm during separation and remind yourself that you are your children’s number one role model so, if they see you are calm and confident, they are more likely to feel that way too
- Develop a goodbye ritual with your children (like butterfly kisses and a fist pump)
- Leave your children confidently and remind them that both you and them will be fine and will see each other soon
If your child is really not coping with separation anxiety then it is important to get a referral from your GP to a child psychologist who can further assess what help your child needs.