By Michelle Bostian, LCSW
Lower School Counselor for Greensboro Day School
Feeling uncomfortable about being separate from mom and dad, or “separation anxiety” is most commonly thought to be something that impacts preschool children and kindergarten age. It does, but also common is the onset around 4th grade. It catches parents off guard because they think they are done with this sort of thing.
Kids around the age of 10 start having more responsibility. They begin to work more independently on homework, have playdates and friend conversations with less supervision and might even start staying home alone for short periods. These are normal parts of their development but they also can trigger some fears. While they want to keep secrets with their friends and get rather annoyed if mom or dad are too involved in homework and school projects, they also have a keen sense of what they are not yet capable of and sometimes can get a little clingy during this stage. Over nights with friends and field trips can cause kids some real worry. In addition, anything at all that is a stressor at home can make kids particularly vulnerable to feelings of worry over times of separation.
If your child is having these feelings, start with listening. Then provide reassurance that what they are feeling is completely normal and actually evidence of them growing and maturing, not a sign of being “babyish” as they might feel. Here are some ideas that may help you and your pre-adolescent to get through this time.
1. Make a calendar together marked with their personal schedule. If you don’t have anything going on let’s say, Tuesday after school, write in something like, “cook dinner with mom” or “homework time”, “tv time”, whatever. That gives them a sense of knowing what’s coming up and that they have some control, just “knowing”.
2. Keep in mind they are still young enough to need and benefit from a bedtime routine. Perhaps it needs to change a bit, but the routine is helpful no matter what the age.
3. Encourage conversations about the day, like highs and lows, to happen at dinner, not at bedtime. Bedtime would be a good time to talk about what you are thankful for and what you are looking forward to the next day.
4. If these things don’t really help, please call your school counselor.
5. Two books to help with worrying in general: Mind Over Basketball by Jane Weierbach, PhD and Elizabeth Phillips-Hershey, PhD and What to do When You’re Scared and Worried by James Crist, PhD
Thank you to Michelle for touching on this topic that is more common than we may think.