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Tips for coping with children’s post-lockdown separation anxiety

  • During lockdown some children have become accustomed to always having their parents around
  • Sudden changes to a child’s environment, and stress, are risk factors for developing anxiety
  • Some children may struggle to cope with going back to school after lockdown
  • Steps can be taken to gradually help children cope with the change
  • A Priory expert offers advice to parents trying to help young children adjust to normal life

As lockdown restrictions are gradually eased, many parents will be looking forward to getting their children back into their old routines.

Some schools in England have now partially reopened, and the Government has announced funding for tutoring sessions for small groups of pupils.

But some children, particularly younger ones, may have become used to the routine of being constantly around their parents, and may suffer from separation anxiety.

Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Oxford, said there are some simple steps parents can take to help their children make the adjustment.

She advised that parents “should be talking to their young child now about all the times in the past they have had fun at the locations they will go to in the future, without their parent, reminding them of happy memories and how well they coped”.

She added; “Parents can talk about the things they will be doing themselves when they go back to work, and how they will enjoy it, so that the child knows their parent will be safe and happy when away from them.”

Stress and changes to the child’s environment are risk factors for separation anxiety disorder. Suffering from anxiety can affect a child’s classroom behavior, academic performance, and social interactions.

Ideally, old routines should be re-introduced gradually. Dr van Zwanenberg said; “Where possible parents should start separating from their child for brief periods, leaving them with one parent or an older sibling if appropriate while they pop out within lockdown rules.

“Parents may be able to meet with people, such as the teachers, who will look after their child when lockdown ceases, so the young person can refresh their memory of how they do feel safe and comfortable around that adult too. They could even do this over a digital platform to enable some positive interaction if they cannot do it face-to-face.”

During lockdown, social distancing will have meant some friendships will have deteriorated because children have been unable to see each other. Dr van Zwanenberg explained that allowing children to meet up with old friends can be very helpful. She said parents “should encourage their child back out into the outside world again as much possible within the rules; children meeting their friends at a park or in a garden, and encouraging them to run around, at a distance from their parent, is a good idea so they get used to not always having parents in close proximity”.

While school can provide a routine and a chance to see friends again, it may be an overwhelming experience, especially if the environment has dramatically changed as a result of measures brought in to deal with Covid-19.

For children who still suffer from anxiety at the idea of separation, Dr van Zwanenberg says parents “can teach them how to calm themselves, if they are feeling nervous, by looking at calming breathing techniques online. If a child can learn to use calmly breathe when anxious, they soon learn they can manage their anxiety themselves, and bring it down quite easily, which is ‘containing’ for them”.

ENDS

 

Notes to editors

A photo of Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg is provided below:

 

For further information or interview with Dr van Zwanenberg, please contact communications@priorygroup.com

About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East. The Priory Group is owned by NASDAQ-listed Acadia Healthcare, which is recognised as a global leader in behavioural health.

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