Pandemic heightens kid’s separation anxiety



How to respond to clinginess and tantrums

pandemic, kids, parents, anxiety, tantrums, clinginess


Separation anxiety normally begins before the age of one but fades away by around the age of 3. A small percentage of kids continue to exhibit symptoms such as clinging to parents, as well as tears or brief tantrums immediately before or after parents' departure. In some cases, such behavior continues into the school years and may be accompanied by stomachaches or headaches.

As parents cope with the complexities of the pandemic, especially in the case of essential workers who may be home less often than usual, symptoms of increased or revived separation anxiety can present a poignant challenge. The New York Times cites research on the best ways to respond to children's anxiety and when to solicit medical attention.

Anxiety is a normal protective emotion that kicks in as children become more aware of their parents' importance and their own ability to walk away. If tantrums last for a long time or persist for months, or if they are so prevalent, your child has trouble with age-appropriate activities, seek the help of a specialist in therapeutic treatment of pediatric anxiety. A therapist can use cognitive-behavioral methods to help your child, as well as giving you advice on responding to anxious behavior.

Here are methods psychologists recommend for relating to both normal and pandemic-heightened separation anxiety.

1. Coping with meltdowns. Some parents try to forestall anxious behavior by staying in view of the child and avoiding situations that require separation, but in the long run, it's better to teach children to deal with anxiety, an important life skill, said Golda Ginsburg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. After a tantrum, when your child has calmed down enough to pay attention, affirm that you can understand why they feel scared, and then encourage them to practice being bravely on their own by undertaking an absorbing activity alone.

2. Prepare for separation. If you're anticipating a situation that may cause anxiety, such as beginning remote learning, going back to preschool, or spending a night away, practice the routine ahead of time so your child knows what to expect.

3. Transitional objects. Offer a coping strategy such as selecting a comforting item that reminds your child of home. This transitional object can be kept in a convenient place in the house or in the child's cubby at school, for easy retrieval when anxiety hits.

4. Treat your own anxiety. It's easy for parents to feel anxious too in these stressful times, and our anxiety can be communicated to children. Take time for self-care to alleviate stress and consider joining a support group online. It helps to share strategies with other parents and to know you're not alone.



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