Separation anxiety is common at different turning points in a child’s life. Try preempting it with yoga to help them cope and transition to the next phase with ease.
Tears streaming, mouth wailing, face reddening in fear as the class doors open for the first day of nursery school. Sound familiar? For some parents, such behavior aptly describes this rite of passage for their little ones. Separation anxiety is common at different turning points in a child’s life, and preempting it is important in order to help them cope and transition to the next phase with ease, says Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., an international speaker, clinical psychologist, and author of the award-winning book, The Conscious Parent (Namaste Publishing, 2010).
The Roots of Separation Anxiety in Children
Most common in infants and small children, this normal stage of development typically strikes children between 18 and 24 months and can set the stage for recurring separation anxiety later—depending on the coping skills and temperament of the child and parents, says Dr. Tsabary.
While most kids experience some form of this mind-state, Dr. Tsabary believes the quality and levels of anxiety depend on how family members handle anxiety. “If the child’s temperament is sensitive and fragile to start with, chances are they will be more prone to anxiety and will need extra guidance and support to manage it,” she says. “If the parents are anxious themselves, it’s likely that they will be unable to be present in the face of their children’s meltdowns and teach them proper coping skills. It all boils down to how the parent handles anxiety within themselves, which then gets projected onto the child.”
The Signs of Separation Anxiety in Kids
To identify separation anxiety in your youngster, Dr. Tsabary advises looking out for dependency, fear in social situations, fear of new challenges, withdrawal, and tearfulness. “Sometimes, when there are other issues at hand as well, the anxiety, if left unattended, can turn into some sort of acting out or anger,” she says.
When a child is simply unable to function and shift his ability to respond to his life situation no matter what the parent does, it’s time to seek professional help, Dr. Tsabary says. “Parents should not be ashamed or embarrassed to do so.”
To best help your kid through transitions like starting school or changing schools, Dr. Tsabary suggests parents start role playing the school situation a few months prior to the actual event. “They should play pretend school—how they will actually drop off the child and what they will be feeling in between. The child should play the parent and vice versa,” she says. “Through the repetition of role playing, the child will develop a certain level of mastery within themselves, giving them the confidence that they will be able to cope with the actual moment of separation. The more the parent believes in the child’s innate abilities to emotionally handle the situation, the more the child will absorb this confidence. If the parent is ambivalent about the child’s innate resilience—a mirror of their own, of course—then the child will pick up on this and act from this place of uncertainty and lack.”
Easing Separation Anxiety in Kids with Yoga
Yoga can be a very grounding practice for anxiety of any kind, says Susan Verde, bestselling children’s book author and yoga and mindfulness instructor. “You can become so caught up in your emotions, experience, and fear,” she says. “Yoga and mindfulness practices help you learn to recognize what you’re feeling and create a distance between you and your emotions. It’s very hard to worry about other things [while in yoga poses].”
If you already incorporate yoga into your life and your child’s, it won’t feel foreign to you or your kids in a moment of separation anxiety. If you know you’re going to be entering a situation with potential for this kind of issue, try taking your child through this simple sequence beforehand.
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4 Yoga Poses for Separation Anxiety
ABOUT OUR WRITER
Erika Prafder is a veteran writer and product reviewer for The New York Post and the author of a book on entrepreneurship. A long-time yoga enthusiast and Hatha yoga teacher, she edits KidsYogaDaily.com, a news source for young yogis. The working mother of three resides in a beach community in Long Island, New York.