Tips for Coping with Separation Anxiety as a Parent
Separation anxiety isn’t limited to just children. Parents can experience the hardship of being away from their kids, too. In this post, we’ll share our top tips that can help parents manage that feeling of loss that sometimes arises when we are away from our children
Teacher and Copywriter
Tearful goodbyes at the school entrance aren't just hard for kids — they’re tough on parents, too. Although it’s not talked about as much, separation anxiety in parents is a very real thing. It’s normal for parents to experience feelings of loss and sadness when they transition into a new schedule away from their children.
To help you navigate the shifts, we’ve rounded up our top tips to help you and your child thrive as you settle into a new routine.
Can Parents Feel Separation Anxiety?
The short answer is: absolutely. Feelings of worry or sadness as your child starts school or daycare are common. No matter your child’s age, if you are transitioning to spending more time apart from them, the experience may affect you emotionally.
You may be concerned about creating a rift in the bond between you and your child by spending time apart. Perhaps you're worried how your child will adjust to their new setting or how they will make friends. The good news is that taking the risk to separate to pursue new experiences has a worthy payoff. Being brave means both you and your child will be able experience the richness of life.
How You Can Cope with Separation Anxiety as a Parent
It’s important to note that separation anxiety can be heightened at this specific moment in time. If the pandemic changed your work or school schedule, the shift to in-school learning or in-office work might have a stronger effect. It’s essential to try to be more patient with ourselves as we continue to navigate a unique situation. Remember to honor your feelings — they’re valid and should be treated as such.
Let’s dive into some of the ways you can ease the stress and also nurture both yourself and your child.
Brace Yourself Mindfully
Anyone can create a mountain out of a molehill. When we're facing a milestone event, like the beginning of the school year or the start of a new job, it’s tempting to want to ignore the uneasiness growing inside us. But you know what they say — ignoring things doesn’t make them go away.
Bracing yourself for separating from your child means noticing how it might affect your body, thoughts, and feelings. One way to do this is to practice mindfulness. And there’s no need to feel intimidated because you won't have to take on a complicated new regimen.
A simple way to practice this is to set up check-ins for yourself as often as you’d like, and answer the following prompts in a journal or notebook:
- What thoughts come into my head when I think of going back to work/my child starting school/separating?
- What sensations do I notice coming up in my body? (Do my shoulders tense up? Do I notice my body feels tired and heavy?)
- What feelings come up for me when I think of the separation?
Jotting down a few words or a quick list can help you track how the experience affects you. For many parents, self-care often feels like a luxury afforded to us only when “everything else” is taken care of. Learning when you’re having a particularly emotional time can help you figure out how to put your best foot forward that day. That way, you can respond by taking tasks off your plate as needed or making sure to finish the day with a good night’s sleep.
Don’t Rush Goodbyes
A goodbye ritual can make all the difference when it comes to separation anxiety. Creating one provides predictability for your child, while also reassuring both of you of your connection with one another as you tackle your days.
No matter what you choose, it’s all about making the goodbye meaningful. Whether it’s hugs, kisses, or a secret handshake, you can load goodbye rituals with positive messages. Turning a separation into a loving or fun habit builds resilience in both of you.
Our biggest tip around this point: avoid rushing goodbyes. When mornings are hectic, it's easy to think that a quick wave is the best way to keep your child from becoming upset. School drop-off time can be tricky. A study shows that by age 4, children understand the effect their distress has on you when it’s time to leave. The stress of knowing that your child is picking up on how you react can be heartbreaking.
At the same time, meaningful goodbyes don’t necessarily mean lengthy ones. You’ll need to choose something that feels right for your family’s relationships. You may try reserving just a couple of minutes to stand outside your child’s classroom with them to help them settle in. Or your goodbye ritual might start in the car, or at home while getting ready at the door.
Make a Point of Enjoying Your Alone Time
Some of us can’t wait to get to the things on our never-ending to-do lists. Others might feel like they need permission to focus on themselves. As busy parents, we all know that it’s difficult to relax when we’re thinking about all the things that need to get done. So first off, if you have tasks to catch up on with your new free time, we encourage you to make the most of it.
Remember though, that creating more time to make an even longer to-do list doesn’t have to be your end goal and can backfire in your pursuit of managing the newfound space in your life. Having time to yourself where you don’t have to be focused on finishing things on a list is crucial. We are human, and we all need space to refocus and replenish.
You can start by looking for the things that bring you joy during the day. Taking a break to enjoy your coffee or tea instead of drinking it while you work might feel like a treat if the pace of your day is usually rushed. If you notice you’ve got sore muscles, take a few minutes to stretch. You could also use the time as an opportunity to pursue the hobby, class or project you’ve always wanted. What’s worked for some in our parent community is dedicating a set amount of time to chores and tasks and then carving out an hour or two a week for things that nurture them (yoga, coffee with friends, 20 minutes of reading etc.)
Separating from your child can do a number on your heart. But ignoring this feeling won’t make it go away. Remember that when you take care of yourself, you’re indirectly taking care of everyone. Not only will you be demonstrating how to build resilience, you also have a much higher chance of showing up as a refreshed parent, ready to interact positively with everyone around you.
Oliver is a classroom educator turned copywriter and content writer. With a passion for teaching and writing, she happily splits her time between the classroom and the keyboard in the spectacular Pacific Northwest in Vancouver, Canada.
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