Being away from home is hard. It's heartbreaking for young children, and it can also be tough on older kids to spend time apart from those they love the most. Being in a new place or going through something challenging without loved ones nearby can be stressful, but it’s actually more common that you would think, especially for kids. It is normal for babies, toddlers, and younger children to be upset about spending time away from their parents or caregivers. Older kids could feel this way from time to time too!
In some cases it causes great stress in these kids and their families when they're not able to go with them on vacation or other places where they can't have access to either parent or caretaker is extremely distressing, even if only briefly. Many children may experience less intense feelings than the full-blown, paralyzing anxiety.
Kids who are away from their caregivers for the first time can have a lot of reactions, including vomiting and being sick. Some might scream or yell; some sob uncontrollably - they're scared and in distress! Kids can feel anxious when they don't know what's happening to them. They need an explanation about how their anxiety is affecting them and why it happens, in language that matches the age of the child with a family-friendly tone. It might take several conversations for kids to understand this concept well enough--so be patient while talking!
Helping children feel less anxious starts with identifying and practicing saying “calm thoughts” before they have to be apart from parents. This might involve drawing pictures or writing sentences that represent these calming statements for them, so they can use it in the future when needed.
Letting kids practice being apart can also help the situation. Psychologists know this process by the name 'exposure,' which simply means asking kids to stay separated from their parents for short, regular periods of time and face their fears. Exposure works best when it is very regular, remember that practice makes perfect! One way adults can help children with separation anxiety and turn a not so pleasing experience into one that's more bearable for them is by practicing acting bravely rather than just "enduring" waiting for time to run down. And when all this fails, or you think more help is needed, know that talking to a teacher, counselor, therapist, psychologist or any qualified professional will most likely help.
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