Episode 7 –
Parenting through Separation Anxiety

Episode 7

“Sometimes taking a step back and doing nothing is the most productive thing we can do for our kids.”

With the start of school, many parents are struggling through separation anxiety. In this episode, Sharon walks you through how to approach such events and shares two difficult experiences she recently had with her daughters. Do you have questions about separation anxiety? Book a call with Sharon here! If you enjoyed this episode, consider sharing it with a friend or writing a review!

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Intro: Welcome to the Raiseology podcast with your host, pediatrician and parenting mentor, Sharon Somekh here to empower parents to raise resilient and independent children. Grab your coffee or your margarita and let’s get started. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should be used to supplement rather than substitute the care provided by your physician.
Sharon: You’re listening to episode seven of the Raiseology podcast. As we approached the beginning of the school year with many parents sending their kids off to new schools. For the first time, I thought we talk about separation anxiety. You may be surprised at what I think one of the most productive things you can do to help your kids to adjust to new situations is. Separation anxiety is something so many parents ask about and have experiences with, whether you’re sending your infant to daycare or leaving them with a babysitter for the first time, sending your toddlers to a new school or sending your kids to sleep-away camp, leaving your children can cause anxiety and worry both for you and for them. I remember sending my daughter to daycare for the first time. For me, it was a situation that was out of necessity, given our work situation and the fact that we were living far away from family. We had researched and done our due diligence to know and feel comfortable that she was in the best hands possible. At the time, my husband and I were both residents and our daughter would be spending many, many hours a day apart from us. This obviously can lead to feelings of guilt as well, but that’s a topic for another episode.
She separated so beautifully and handle new situations so well that I used to think we were the lucky ones when we send her off to daycare. Granted she was only a baby, but I saw other infants and children (and of course their parents) struggling with a similar transition. Looking back on it, I strongly feel that she had an easier transition because we were truly comfortable with the environment and didn’t give her any indication that this transition was tough for us (even though it was.) Some parents will ask, do you really think little ones understand though, and the truth is we’re learning more and more about how parental anxiety affects children, even with babies are parental anxiety, can contribute to their fussiness and their own feelings of anxiety. So who were the kids that had the most trouble that first day of daycare, the ones whose parents lingered, those parents who hope to stay until the very last second and not miss that one final glimpse of their child until they were, oh, so gently escorted out of the room.
Why? Well, let’s look at exactly that. You have a two year old son or daughter and you’re dropping them off at daycare or leaving them with a new sitter for the very first time. I think it’s safe to assume that you’ve done your research and feel comfortable with the person in whose care you’re leaving them. I think it’s our responsibility as parents to do so. You may feel uncomfortable with the transition and you’re really concerned about both how you and your child will handle it, which is completely normal, but imagine for a moment how this scenario can be played out in two different ways.
In the first you discussed with your child that transition and when the day arrives, you’re ready to drop off your child, but he is crying and holding onto your leg for dear life, leaving you both stuck in one spot so you don’t, or in this case, literally can’t leave. You’re feeling guilt remorse in some separation anxiety yourself. You decide to stay just a few minutes to help them get settled, but when those few minutes and you feel it’s even harder to leave as your child’s eyes fill with larger and larger tears and that deep rich wailing that goes right to the heart of every parent soon begins. Now think about why this may be happening. When you make your decision to linger at the new environment or situation, the message you’re sending, you’re already hesitant child is loud and clear to them. I’m worried too. How do you think that makes them feel? More likely than not the crying escalates and it’s now grown to a howling and it is harder and harder to separate from each other. Not only is this an issue on day one, but on subsequent days as well because each time your child cries, you stay just a little longer, positive reinforcement for the very behavior you’re trying to eliminate.
Let’s consider the scenario another way. It is again the first day in a new situation. As mentioned before, you’re feeling confident in your choice, but still feel guilt and hesitation and leaving your child. You decide to focus on the confidence of your choice. You discuss the transition with your child. You prepare them for the fact that you will be dropping them off at school and you will be back to pick them up later. In this scenario however, when your child cries, you leave rather than linger with a hug and a quick kicks and perhaps, and I know you’ll love it here, this time you leave without looking back, you feel terribly guilty. I won’t sugarcoat it. Maybe you even wait outside listening for when the child will stop crying or call a few minutes later to check in, but all of that is fine. As long as your child doesn’t know what message have you sent your child this time, I know you will be just fine. I feel good about where you are and I will see you later. Each day, the transition is just a little bit easier until your child says by at the door and waves you off without any sense of hesitation. Now what a great feeling that is. That is not always so easy to achieve, but it is so important. I personally have had a couple of experiences with separation anxiety recently that I honestly had a very tough time with. My three year old went to summer camp on a bus for the very first time. She was so excited to get on a bus and see her friends at camp. Her best friend who was supposed to be on our bus was transferred to a different bus before the start of camp. She only had one familiar face on the bus, but despite that she got on like a champ, so great, bullet dodged or so I thought.
Day two was a totally different story. I walked around the bus and the bus counselor buckled her in as the bus pulled away. I was waving happily only to find her little face sobbing back of me. Oh boy did I feel terrible. Not so much guilty as I was sending her to have fun at Camp and I knew she was gonna have the time of her life, but so sad that she was uncomfortable. Day three was even worse. Instead of happily being buckled by her counselor, it took both of us physically holding her in the seat to get her buckled in. Now, how many of you listening would have taken her off the bus and driven her? After all, camp is only five minutes from my house tone. Think I hadn’t considered it. I’d be lying if I said so, but I stuck to my plan and the next couple of days we talked about camp and the counselor on the bus and about behaving like a big girl. She told me she was crying because of her feelings of missing me. Wow. She’s only three. Talk about heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe how well she was verbalizing but still managed to encourage her the best I could. I reminded her of the fun times at Camp with her friends and we discussed acting brave on the bus. The next morning she flip flopped between telling me she was going to cry and telling me she would get on the bus bravely. When the time came to get on the bus, much to my surprise, she put on her backpack and walked bravely, though hesitantly, onto the bus, got buckled in and gave her counselor high five. I videotaped the whole thing and made a big deal about it. When she came home, I showed her and others at home the video to encourage a repeat performance the next day and she did great again. I was so proud. I wasn’t just immensely proud of her, but I was also proud of myself those first few days. I honestly wasn’t sure what my best course of action was. I considered calling the camp and switching her bus route to be with her friends. I thought about if that would be such a bad option, she would have probably been fine either way, but I like to think about what she and I have both gained not having done that. She’s been able to overcome whatever fears she had about getting on the bus and I’m sure that makes her proud. She’s gained confidence in herself to enjoy new experiences despite some fear or sadness, and this for her is a step toward resilience, which is such an important skill for me to know that we’re working hard at each day with our kids.
I do also want to add in a quick note about how important it is for others helping you to be part of your plan. There was one day that my mother in law put her on the bus and if she had gotten jarred by the crying and ended up driving her to camp, I would not have been upset. I would have understood that it is not her role to enforce my plan since she’s not regularly there in the mornings at that time, but luckily for me, she went along with it and I believe the consistency of that experience really helped make it a quicker and smoother transition. I think in general, if you’re making changes and there’s a setback because either you or someone else wasn’t able to follow through consistently, that doesn’t mean all is lost. Pick up again, the next day where you left off and in the words of Walt Disney, keep moving forward. Of course, with four children, there’s rarely a dull moment. Just as we were excited about our win with our three year old, we were dealing with serious separation anxiety and our oldest child. Yep. This is the same child that was so brave in her younger years and she was having such a hard time adjusting to the new experience of sleepaway camp.
To give you some background, I never attended sleepaway camp myself, but my husband was a camper for many summers as a kid and we live in a neighborhood that becomes a ghost town over the summer with the majority of kids over the age of eight going away for four to seven weeks. Our oldest daughter never really expressed much interest in going away, given that she was content at day camp and has a group of friends that has also mostly stayed home, which is great for me. For a mom that’s unfamiliar with camp, I was happy to have my kids home for the summer, but last summer are now nine year old realized that most of her friends would be away. She came to us and asks us to consider the experience of sleepaway camp for her as well, and so we started looking for camps. We found a camp that’s great and we sent our two older girls with four of their cousins this summer, and let me tell you this experience was a great reminder about how different two children can be. Our nine year old was totally in her element. We received happy letters. If you call one sentence a letter. I guess she was having so much fun. She didn’t want to waste time writing. Meanwhile, our oldest, who to be fair, was separated from her younger cousins and went to camp without any friends, sent long letters about how homesick she was. She was certainly not the only home sick child that camp and I’ve heard from many of my friends that they themselves use to write similar letters home from camp, but look back at camp as a time of some of their fondest childhood memories. And the camp was wonderful about trying to encourage bonding experiences within the bunk and really helped her solidify her friendships while making sure to address any real concern she had. So what’s a parent to do, she’s not a toddler that doesn’t understand, and as I saw it, she was focusing on the negative experiences at camp such as the bugs and the mediocre food. I guess it’s not her fault that her mom’s such a great cook. Fortunately for both of us, I got the opportunity to be at camp as a doctor for week. First day, I was able to observe her from afar and see that in reality she was having a great time at camp. She was sharing laughs and adventures with new friends and it was a bonding experience like no other, but still on the last day of my week at camp, which happened to also be family visiting day, she begged to come home with us while we understood her concerns and would not force her to return to camp next summer if she really didn’t want to, we chose to not allow her to return home that day. What were we hoping to teach her? Well, for starters, we want her to learn that when we commit to something, we see it through. Second, we want her to really focus on the positives rather than the negatives. In every life experience, there are positives and negatives and I have always been a glass half full kind of person. We wanted her to come away from this experience, focusing on the friendships and the fun activities she was exposed to rather than the bugs and the long shower lines. If there’s one thing I want to teach my children, it’s to look at all experiences through a positive lens. Even in the worst experiences, there’s at least something to be learned. I truly believe that this kind of thinking makes for a much happier life, but I also understand that the separation anxiety here is real. At camp, there are no phone calls, minimal emails, and only one visit with the family for the whole month. She was truly fortunate to have had me there for a whole week even if I didn’t see her much. But I circle back to my original thought that we chose this camp with her and for her because we felt it was a great place where she would make friendships and gain independence and maturity in a unique way that we could not provide for her at home. As we see it, bringing her home early would not teach her the values that we were hoping for her to gain through this experience. I’m not sure if she’ll be returning to camp next summer. It’s still too early to decide, but I’m glad she shared this experience with her sister, her cousins, and her new friends and I believe it has truly helped her to grow as a person.
It was a great reminder that it is normal for kids to feel anxious during new experiences and it’s sometimes up to us as parents to see them through those experiences, which sometimes requires us to do the hardest thing of all, nothing. So next time you’re faced with a situation that’s likely to cause some separation anxiety in your kids. Remember these points.
One, our kids feel are anxiety, and when they do, it increases their levels of anxiety, so try your best to be confident in your decisions and show them that you’re comfortable with these new experiences.
Two, even when they’re challenged, if they’re supported by us, our children can overcome the anxiety and will feel proud and more confident in themselves after having done so.
Three, teaching them to overcome these challenging is a step toward raising resilient children that will be able to face and overcome more difficult challenges later in life.
Four, just as we want our children to focus on the positive aspects of every situation so should we. Let the positive thinking be what helps us support our kids through these moments.
Five, sometimes taking a step back and doing nothing is the most productive thing we can do for our kids. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to listen to this podcast. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode, and if you did, please consider leaving a review that way I can reach and help more parents. Thanks so much for your support.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Raiseology podcast. Head over to www.Raiseology.com, where you’ll find plenty of. You’ve got this resources for parents and any links or tools mentioned in today’s show. Be sure to hit subscribe on your podcast so they you can listen to the next episode, the minute it’s out. Until next time, have an empowered week.

Meet Your Mentor

Sharon is a general pediatrician, loving wife and mother to 4 daughters.

 After a decade of practicing general pediatrics and working with families, she realized there often wasn’t enough time while tending to children’s medical needs to help parents in the way that would be most helpful in shaping their children’s futures.

 The Raiseology Program was developed to teach parents how to raise their children with the love and authority necessary to promote resilience and responsibility.

Sharon’s experience with hundreds of families as well as her own help her meet you where you are on your parenting journey to help you make it what you want it to be.

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This site and the information contained therein is for educational purposes only. This site is not a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. The use of this site does not create a doctor-patient relationship.

Your privacy is important to us so we want to let you know. This site uses tracking technology, such as cookies and pixels to enhance your user experience and provide social media features. You can find out more here.