Parents & Separation Anxiety – We Feel it Too

When you think of separation anxiety, does your mind turn to clingy toddlers, fearful preschoolers, or upset gradeschoolers? While these are the types of people – children – that we tend to think of when we consider separation anxiety, parents can feel it, too.

Whether your child is going off to college and you’re facing an empty nest, or your child is starting preschool for the first time, some parents have a hard time coping with being separated from their children. When parents feel separation anxiety, there are some things you can do to help ease the separation. Here are some ideas.

Plan, Plan, Plan

And then plan some more! Parents tend to “walk in circles” after their child leaves, unsure how to spend their time. This is especially true if parents include their children in their daily activities and schedules. Open, unplanned time that used to be filled with your child can be anxiety-producing. So before the day your child leaves – even if the separation is just for a few hours – plan the day and how you’ll spend your time.

Since the separation from your child is likely to be a regular (or even semi-permanent) thing, plan your days that will follow the first separation, too.

While you’re keeping busy, try to schedule activities you haven’t gotten to do in a long time, or that you have wished you could do for a while. This can help you look forward to this “me time.” This is a great time to take that class or join that group!

Keep It Positive

When you are around your child, try not to communicate your anxiety. You shouldn’t be expected to stuff it all inside; your spouse, a therapist, pastor, friend, etc. can provide a listening ear. But your child benefits from seeing your confidence in his ability to be on his own. Try not to make her feel guilty, or be “clingy” in an adult way.

Letting Go

It’s tempting for parents with separation anxiety to become stifling, even remotely. In today’s world, there are more ways than ever for parents to “hover” and shadow their children. But it’s probably not a good idea to follow your child on every social network or insist that he call or send a text message every hour. Talk to other parents or professionals about what’s normal in this regard, and set up a sensible contact plan and stick to it.

Know Who’s in Charge

It might help your anxiety to know your child’s caregiver(s) well. Take some time to get to know teachers, camp counselors, or whoever your child is going to be around when she’s away from you. If your child is going to college, meet her roommate and some of her professors, particularly those in her chosen field. Then, once again, let it go – try to resist “harassing” teachers, caregivers, etc. by insisting on updates all the time.