Transitioning back to school after a long break or distance learning can cause some children to have separation anxiety.
Helping children with separation anxiety can mean the difference between a productive school day and one that is fraught with emotions. If your student, or perhaps your own child, is experiencing separation anxiety here are some ways to help them cope.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is distress caused by being away from, or the anticipation of being away from, loved ones or home. This distress is usually persistent and causes students’ to struggle with daily functioning for some or all of the day.
While it is often seen most in toddler and preschool-age children, it is not uncommon to see signs of separation anxiety in older students after an extended absence or break from the classroom setting.
How to Help Students with Separation Anxiety
As with any type of anxiety, separation anxiety is not a feeling that children are purposefully trying to have. Oftentimes they cannot control it or express why they’re feeling the way that they do. It can be overwhelming and all-consuming during the time the child is experiencing it.
As educators, it’s important that we help students navigate those emotions and create a safe environment for them. Here are some ways to do that.
1 – Stick to a Routine
When students are feeling the uncertainty associated with separation anxiety, a routine helps them see the structure of the day and provides stability. Having a visual schedule like the free Flip Visual Schedule allows teachers to create a tangible routine for students that they can follow throughout the day.
2 – Let Students Carry a Picture
For some students, carrying around a picture of their loved ones can bring them comfort throughout the day. While the child might need to carry it around continuously at first, as the separation anxiety gets better, the picture may only be needed at certain times throughout the day.
3 – Create a Safe Place for Emotions
Make sure your students who are experiencing separation anxiety understand that your classroom is a safe place for their emotions. To do that, make conversations about emotions and feelings a common part of your daily routine and learning. Having tools like the Emotions Sorting Mats available helps normalize students’ emotions and helps them recognize and express how they are feeling.
4 – Something From Home
Maybe it’s a cuddly stuffed animal or dad’s favorite ball cap that brings a child comfort when their anxiety takes hold. Allow your students to bring something from home that can help ease that transition into the classroom.
5 – All About Me
When children fear being separated from their loved ones, it can be helpful to remind them about how they are always connected to their family. The All About Me Adapted Work Binder is a great way to do this because it focuses on how the child is connected both to the family and the school. While it won’t cure separation anxiety, it can make the school feel like a safer space.
6 – Get Families Onboard
For many children with separation anxiety, they need to know that their loved ones trust the people they are leaving them with. If parents linger in leaving the classroom or look worried or upset, the child picks up on those cues and feels even more anxious. Get families onboard with transitioning and have them leave the room quickly and with no fuss. While they might want to give their child a million kisses before they leave, it usually does nothing to ease the child’s feelings of anxiety.
Separation anxiety can be hard on students, parents, and teachers. However, when parents and teachers work together to meet the child’s needs and create a safe, caring environment, the child usually adapts quickly to being away from family. Proceed with compassion and care.