Separation anxiety. Top issue with kids and parents these days! The truth is that the day I became a parent I didn’t realise that I was suddenly being promoted to The Great Captain of the ship role. And what great hurdle came along with those “Congratulations on your baby!” Not to mention, no user manual! So now that we know where we are at, wouldn’t it be awesome to understand a little about the cockpit before we begin to stir the ship through those sometimes calm, but very often rough waters?
Separation Anxiety vs Excitement
One first thing to understand when it comes to our thinking is that our minds respond to only 2 things: the images we create in our heads and the words we say to ourselves – during the early years your child will internalise and model your behaviour and your words. In fact, this is the basis of how we learn how to speak – we want to model our parents so badly that we begin to mimic the way they create phonemes and articulate. Now when we look at separation anxiety the one thing that is very useful to know is that our physical reaction to anxiety is very similar to our physical reaction to excitement. So similar we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference!
Not convinced? Please picture in your mind’s eye a huge rollercoaster in a busy fun-park. When the train goes down the rollercoaster loads of people are screaming. Can you tell which one is scared and which one is having fun? Of course not! And that’s because our minds cannot distinguish between anxiety and excitement judging only by the reactions displayed on the body. It needs words to make the difference. So the trick with separation anxiety is to tell our minds that what we are experiencing is actually excitement, not fear!
It is perhaps worth noting here that if you are starting a new job, your feelings of nervousness could overlap and project onto your child. So try to resolve and own your state first.
ANCHORING: ADJUST AND CREATE HELPFUL ANCHORS
First begin to look and adjust your existing anchors so that you are anchored into the state of mind you want to be in, and so that your children are also anchored into useful states of mind.
use the waving goodbye anchor every time you wish to anchor the feelings of great joy, excitement and happiness! Every time they are at the playground, the play area or out surrounded by friends and you are spectating. When their eyes search for you keep waving and mimic saying the word “bye” – this way you create a reassuring, positive anchor when waving goodbye. Repeat how exciting nursery is, how much fun they are going to have, how great it is to have new friends. Tell them how normal it is for everyone to feel excited about making new friends, learning new things, playing with new toys. Rehearse this anchor when leaving them with another adult for just a few minutes in the beginning. Increase the duration to 30mins to an hour.
Have high energy anchors in the morning to wake your family up, and anchors for relaxation in the evening to calm the family down. Doing the same sequence of events before bed each day, at roughly the same time, helps relaxation. Slow down your voice and movements in the evening to help everyone relax; speed up in the morning to help them energise.
Find out what music gets both you and your child into states of inspiration, calm, love, confidence and creativity – their favourite cartoons soundtracks is great starting point. Notice what pictures (for example photos of places where you have enjoyed being) create these states for you. Choose to make these anchors available where you want those states of the mind, you going to work and your child going to the nursery/childminder/preschool.
Find out what are powerful positive anchors for your children and make these available for them. You can support your children in certain useful activities, such as reading books, by ingraining them with great anchors like holding them in your arms.
Create positive anchors with touch by holding and hugging your children when they are in strong positive states, rather than just when they are sad. Help them to associate touch with positive states of mind first. Then you use touch to recreate these positive states when they are needed. To use your touching mainly as a method of punishing, controlling or pushing away your children is to anchor touch to unpleasant states of mind and take away from yourself one of the most positive anchors you have available. Make touch a positive anchor so that you can recreate those good feelings as needed – this is a big advantage of activities such as physical play and baby massage.
You can also choose to use a special scent like lavender to spray on their clothes every time you take them to sensory play, the playground or any other place which is bound to be fun. You can also have a special treat you give them during a fun, exciting activity.
Help them build their own anchors and teach them to fire those whenever they need to. During the age of miracles create a “happiness” button. Choose a certain spot on their body. A good spot is somewhere on their upper arm but perhaps avoid the BCG vaccine arm. Choose a time when they feel happy, excited or engrossed in an activity they love. Calmly and naturally touch it gently with a specific pressure you can remember later. Every time you cheer them, encourage and praise them for having succeeded in a task, touch that same spot with the same pressure. In time you will build up a very strong positive anchor. When they begin to step into the age of magic you can unveil this trick only they have the secret happiness button. Teach them to keep topping it up – every time they feel happy, confident or excited – they can store happiness every time they feel happy or excited and they can also release it just by touching it!
ANCHORing CONFIDENCE and excitement FROM AN EARLY STAGE
Being The Great Captain of the ship you probably need to know where you are going. The awesome thing about returning to work is that at least you know where you are heading! Your child will attend some form of childcare. Even if you plan for homeschooling chances are that there will come a time when you and your child will have to move in different directions for short periods of time.
Knowing that’s coming next gives you the chance to start planning in advance!
We usually look at reverse engineering to plant the anchors smartly. Just close your eyes and imagine the days when you’ll take your child to a childcare setting. Then identify the main segments of the morning. For example, breakfast, getting dressed, getting in the car, walking to the nursery, saying goodbye.
Fire the various anchors of confidence, happiness and excitement at the beginning and throughout those segments:
- breakfast – you can start it with an auditory anchor “Breakfast is ready!”, followed by the smell and taste of a comforting morning breakfast.
- getting dressed – what great opportunity to slip in that magical scent you’ve already anchored! Let them have their favourite “side-kick” toy. You can reinforce how much fun Mr Cuddles is about to have at the setting!
- getting in the car – time to play and sing-along those lovely soundtracks. Let the new adventure begin!
- walking to the nursery – create genuine rapport by verbally describing their physical symptoms. “oh wow, I’ve got butterflies in the tummy and a jumping heart!” for example. Lead them to excitement, instead of nervousness. Tell them how happy the butterflies are that he or she are going to the childcare setting. Share with them how his or her little heart bounces up and down with joy and happiness.
Test your anchors every time you can. Use every occasion to reinforce their functionality. When challenging situations arise test an anchor. Notice the change. The aim is to anchor empowerment and wonderment. The image of you leaving setting should trigger independence and excitement, not of separation anxiety. During the settlement period at the nursery, spend time reinforcing how exciting everything is and how much fun they have! Remind them about their secret magic button. Every time they need a little happiness and confidence they can fire it up by touching it.
Always applaud how well they are doing. Prize them of how amazing they are at making new friends and talking to the teachers. Very very soon, they will be skipping to nursery or gladly leave you behind once the childminder’s door opens!