My Anxiety Plan (MAP) for Separation Anxiety
The following strategies are designed for you the parent to use with your child as s/he begins to tackle separation anxiety. These strategies are best used for children with mild-moderate signs of separation anxiety. For children with more severe symptoms or who have been diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, we recommend treatment with a mental health professional, although MAP strategies can be used at home to support your child’s therapy work.
Step 1. Helping your child become an expert on anxiety
This is a very important first step, as it helps children understand what is happening to them when they experience anxiety. Teaching your child that the worries and physical feelings she is experiencing have a name -anxiety- and that millions of other people also have anxiety, can be a great relief. Help your child become an expert on anxiety by providing him or her with facts and important information.
To learn how to explain this to your child, see Anxiety 101: What You and Your Child Need to Know About Anxiety and Talk to Your Child about Anxiety and the ABCs of Anxiety: Understanding How Anxiety Works and Fight-Flight-Freeze.
Step 2: Teaching your child about separation anxiety
- Reading or explaining some of the information outlined on the separation anxiety main page can help your child to feel more in control of what is happening to him. Knowledge is power.
- Explain to your child that all kids sometimes worry about being away from a parents or having to be in school all day with new teachers and friends. Having a little bit of this worry some of the time helps us prepare and do our best. However, your child is likely worrying a lot of the time. You can explain that your child’s worry about being apart from you is like a thermostat that is set too high and the temperature is no longer comfortable. Tell your child that you will work together, as a team, to give him or her the tools to help cope with anxiety and gradually face his or her fears to get the thermostat back to a comfortable setting.
- Let your child know that separation anxiety is fairly common, and your child is not the only one who feels this way.
Step 3: Creating your child’s MAP
The best way to help your child deal with separation anxiety and related worries is to give him or her tools that can be used to cope more effectively. These tools are intended to increase your child's ability to tolerate anxiety, rather than to eliminate anxiety. Anxiety exists everywhere, and therefore it is an illusion to believe we can eliminate the source and experience of anxiety. It is far more effective to provide your child with the tools to tolerate and cope, rather than to control and escape. For separation anxiety, you might want to use any or all of the following separation anxiety tools to create your child’s My Anxiety Plan (MAP). Facing my Fears will be one of the most helpful tools you can use, although you will likely find benefit and relief from many of the others as well. These tools are listed in a recommended order, although proceeding in this order will depend on the needs and interests of your child.
- Talking to Your Child about Anxiety
- When Anxiety Becomes a Problem: What’s Normal and What’s Not
- Naming the Bully
- Learning to Relax: Calm Breathing
- Learning to Relax: Muscle Relaxation
- Balanced Thinking
- Cognitive Coping Cards
- Addressing Excessive Reassurance Seeking
- Facing My Fears
- Rewarding Bravery
- Coping with Back to School Anxiety
- Sleeping alone or Away from Home
- Coping with Nightmares
- Tolerating Uncertainty
Final point: Although increased knowledge and the many tools available on this website can be very effective in helping you to manage your child’s separation anxiety, sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes children have very severe anxiety, and despite all your best efforts, your child might still be struggling daily with anxiety symptoms. If this is the case, seek some professional help through a consult with your family doctor, psychiatrist, or a child psychologist/mental health worker.