My kids and I have spent almost no time apart since mid-March. With school starting soon, I’m a little nervous about how my youngest, who is six, is going to handle the separation. Are you running into this issue with your kids? If so, you will find great tips from this month’s authors, including ideas on how to help alleviate any type of anxiety. Try them out and let me know what works best for your family.
— Nicole Balza
WHEN I FIRST was asked to write about separation anxiety, I immediately thought of my three-year-old, whom I refer to as my barnacle. She clings to me at all times. In fact, if I close the bathroom door for some privacy she usually sits outside and cries or repeatedly asks how long I will be in there.
Our family has been around each other a lot more lately due to the present global pandemic. My girls are with me as we attempt homeschooling, and my husband has been doing a majority of his work from home. Through all this, my barnacle has started to latch on to me even more than normal, to the point that she won’t even go to her father at times. So I thought, Easy peasy, I’ve got this article down. It’s every day of my life with my three-year-old.
My husband is a social worker who works with homeless veterans, so there is a point each week when he has to leave his garage office to check in on his clients. There is usually a cheerful good-bye from my daughters and me because we know he will only be gone for two to three hours. My barnacle is content that she can continue to cling to me, and my six-year-old knows there is definitely more screen time and junk food when her father is gone.
One morning recently, though, my six-year-old daughter was angry and cranky when he left. She continued to take out her frustration on her sister and me. After a few back-and-forth exchanges, I finally snapped at her and asked, “Why are you so cranky?”
She simply responded, “I don’t want Daddy to leave.”
Confused, I looked at her and said, “Why? He’s just going to work like usual.”
She burst into tears and said, ”I don’t want him to leave the house because they are hurting Black men like him right now.”
I burst into tears with her.
This was not the regular separation anxiety I faced daily with my barnacle. For my daughter, this was real fear and anxiety that she would never see her dad again. We did all the normal things that I would do when separation anxiety creeps up. We took deep breaths, we did some stretches, and we wrote Daddy a note and drew him a picture to tell him how much we love him. She needed more, so we dove into Scripture. I typed “anxiety” into my Bible app and came up with Philippians 4:6,7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I read this to myself, then read it to her. I said, “I think we should pray.” I started a simple prayer, and my daughter soon took over, sharing her worries and fears with Jesus. I can’t tell you exactly what she said because I was so busy watching her body language as her body started to relax. You could see the anxiety and the fear dissipate. In that moment we could have tried all of my calming techniques for anxiety, but what she needed to do was cast her anxieties on Jesus and have the reassurance that he was watching over her—and her daddy too.
TOM AND CARRIE WERE EXASPERATED. It was Monday morning, and once again, their eight-year-old daughter, Emily, was crying and begging to stay home from school because she felt sick. No amount of talking, coaxing, or reassuring helped. In desperation, they scheduled an appointment with Emily’s pediatrician. After a thorough examination, the doctor explained that Emily was experiencing Separation Anxiety Disorder and referred her to a counselor.
Separation Anxiety Disorder may involve symptoms that are persistent, excessive, and intense. These symptoms often lead to major distress in family relationships, friendships, and school attendance.
Some of the potential symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder include
- high anxiety, even misery, when separating from a major caregiver;
- worry about losing a caregiver;
- whining, crying, begging, or tantrums when facing separation;
- being afraid to sleep alone or without the caregiver; and
- frequent complaints about headaches, stomachaches, nausea when separated or when separation is anticipated.
Separation Anxiety Disorder often develops after a stressful life event. However, sometimes there is no identifiable trigger. Genetics also appears to play a role, as anxiety tends to run in families. Parents who are overly protective may unintentionally contribute to their child’s worry and fear.
About 4 to 5 percent of American children ages 7 to 11 experience Separation Anxiety Disorder, as well as approximately 1 percent of teens. Boys and girls are equally impacted.
As is true with so many issues, early intervention can help to alleviate problems before they become bigger issues. Without treatment, children are at greater risk of depression, anxiety disorders, school avoidance, academic underachievement, low self-esteem, and strained relationships with family and peers.
Effective treatments are available that can help to bring relief, often in a short period of time. These treatments may include a combination of
- individual counseling, which helps the child to modify fearful thoughts and face fears;
- professional Christian counseling and/or pastoral counseling that incorporates reflection on Scripture passages about worry, anxiety, peace, and trusting God;
- family therapy that includes parent education;
• consultation with the school; and
- medication for moderate to severe cases.
After a few counseling sessions, Emily was feeling far less anxious and was going to school regularly. She learned strategies to calm her mind and body. Her favorites were deep breathing and meditating on Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 107, Number 09
Issue: September 2020
- Parent conversations: How can parents and kids manage stress?
- Parent conversations: What do your prayers for your children include?
- Parent conversations: How do we resist making our parenting law-based?
- Parent conversations: What Bible passages do you turn to most as a parent?
- Parent conversations: How can we help kids develop positive, healthy habits?
- Parent conversations: What tactics do you use to encourage children to tackle difficult tasks?
- Parent conversations: How can we model good listening skills for our kids?
- Parent conversations: How do we help our kids move on from mistakes?
- Parent conversations: How can we instill gratitude in our children?
- Parent conversations: How can parents find the balance between being too restrictive and too permissive?
- Parent conversations: How can we teach kids to be good friends?
- Parent conversations: What life skills will help young people as they transition to adulthood?
- Parent conversations: How do we discuss death with our children?
- Parent conversations: What does it look like for a father to be a strong Christian leader?
- Parent conversations: How can we help young adults stay engaged in the church?
- Parent conversations: What do parents need to know about video games?
- Parent conversations: How do parents not let worry get the best of them?
- Parent conversations: How do we teach our kids to value all people?
- Parent conversations: When parenting philosophies differ
- Parent conversations: How can we help today’s overwhelmed teens?
- Parent conversations: How can parents maintain a healthy marriage?
- Parent conversations: You might be a Lutheran parent if . . .
- Parent conversations: Parenting post–high school: What is a parent’s role?
- Parent conversations: How can families use the hymnal in their worship life at home?
- Parent conversations: What should Christian parents teach their children about gender?
- Parent conversations: What is vocation? How does it apply to parenting?
- Parent conversations: Why do siblings fight? How should I react when they are fighting?
- Parent conversations: How do we teach children resilience?
- Parent conversations: How do I approach vaccines as a Christian parent?
- Parent conversations: How can I explain the Sixth Commandment to a young child?
- Parent conversations: How can I help my child have an optimistic outlook?
- Parent conversations: What if we can’t follow our Christmas traditions this year?
- Parent conversations: What are ways to foster a rich prayer life in children?
- Parent conversations: How can I let the gospel shine as I parent?
- Parent conversations: How should I handle a child’s separation anxiety?
- Parent conversations: How should families prepare to go back to school?
- Parent conversations: How does a teen’s brain work?
- Parent conversations: How much should I monitor my child online?
- Parent conversations: How can parents reassure children during an uncertain time?
- Parent conversations: How can I stay calm when my child is out of control?
- Parent conversations: Should I give something up for Lent?
- Parent conversations: How can I keep my child engaged in attending church?
- Parent conversations: How can we help a stressed-out kid?
- Parent conversations: How can we nurture a proper view of “stuff”?
- Parent conversations: How involved should parents be in a child’s homework?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Are we modeling kindness for our children?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What’s the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How should we handle it when people undermine our parenting decisions?
- Parent conversations: How can we prepare children for summer camp?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How do parents find contentment?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we help a family with a sick parent?
- Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can parents model healthy cell phone use?
- Parent conversations: How can we protect kids without scaring them?
- Parent conversations: What does your family’s bedtime routine look like?
- Parent conversations: What do I need to consider before I give my child a cell phone?
- Parent conversations: How can we teach gentleness and strength at the same time?
- Parent conversations: What should we do when our children grow silent?
- Parent conversations: What should we teach our children about the Reformation?
- Parent conversations: What is our goal as parents?
- Parent conversations: How does a parent’s role change over time?
- Parent conversations: How should I handle a disagreement with my child’s teacher?
- Parent conversations: What are the building blocks of a strong parent/child relationship?
- Parent conversations: What Christmas traditions do you cherish in your family?