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24 Feb Return to school & separation anxiety
Here in Ireland it’s recently been announced that the schools will return on a phased basis. Hurrah says I! And not hurrah for getting them out of the house or away from me, but hurrah because it’s so important that children are given the opportunity to move forwards with their lives. I will of course enjoy the silence and squirrel away in the poly tunnel drinking tea and listening to music. Alone. Uninterrupted.
Parents have been in touch querying separation anxiety because of the return to school and period of isolation since Christmas. What’s important to remember in these situations is that it is in-fact the relationship at home that is the important one. Your child will replicate this relationship throughout their lives as it is the first and foremost way they have learnt to be in the world. This relationship is your child’s foundation for everything they do in life – go to school, jobs, partners and friends – as it’s their learned way of being.
These extended periods of being at home have been a time to be curious about this relationship – yes I realise that for many it has been stressful working from home and home schooling – but parenting is about the how. How do you communicate disappointment at not being available all the time, how you organise your time with your child and be with them at the times when you could? Is the relationship raising the child you’d hoped to?
If separation anxiety has now become an issue I would encourage you to again be curious and observe if this is a new relationship pattern, or one that was there before? And what part of the return to school is the child predicting isn’t going to work for them? Some part of it must have been ok before and if so which parts? No-one likes all of anything(I love eating, but not doing the dishes, I also love wearing clean clothes but dislike greatly hanging up the washing) and it’s important that children learn to tolerate things which aren’t harming them, and yes perhaps are boring at times, but also part and parcel of life.
What I see a lot of in the therapy room with clients is a lack of tolerance for the more difficult times in life. And my opinion is that this is something so important that we teach children, but without the labelling of technical terminology such as ‘separation anxiety’ or similar phrases. Keep it simple, they’re perhaps nervous, worried, got things on their mind. But there is no need to diagnose this. This is normal and must be normalised.
My experience has been that separation anxiety can actually come from deeper within the parent and child relationship and there can be a ping pong of anxiety between the parents and child. Most of the parents that have spoken with me hadn’t asked their child if they were nervous about going back and we realised that it was the parent who was worried, rather than the child. This is important to realise as so often parents worries become the worries of the children almost by accident.
When we explored it, it was because the parents were fearful of making their children anxious by talking about it. Do you see now how parents have inadvertently brought fear, anxiety and worry into their children’s lives without even meaning too? And children absorb this like a sponge because they learn from the environment they grow up in.
Always try to remember whose needs are being met. I know some very courageous parents come to me saying they know that their need to be needed is being fulfilled by their child. And like I always say, it’s up the parents to decide what sort of kids they are hoping to raise, and do the parent actions and behaviours match this?
Bethan is a Psychotherapist specialising in Parent Support and has over 15 years experience supporting people through change. Bethan runs the free Facebook Group Calm & Confident Parenting where parents come to find their parenting best.
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