Anxiety in children: 15 practical and creative suggestions

Posted under Practical Advice


Anxiety in children: 15 practical suggestions

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend who wanted some creative suggestions for helping anxiety in children, specifically, her child to overcome her separation anxiety.  This is such a tricky one, you know. In real life, when many of us do have to return to work or study when our children are little, and we have to use childcare, or family day care, or rely on friends or family, ‘separation’ is something we may have to deal with on a daily or weekly basis.  We want it to be easy- for their sake, and for ours.  We want to know our children feel safe, secure, and comfortable to leave us, and to remain in the care of someone else.  If they are not, it only adds to the stress, guilt, and worry we already feel.  Not to mention how the children are coping, or not coping.


While I know it is possible to use a little bit of imagination to find ways to help child settle when they leave Mum (or Dad), I’m not always sure it is the right thing. It really depends on the child, and the situation. The challenge is to know the difference between a passing phase, and true psychological stress. (If you are unsure, seek outside help.)


Sometimes, with some children, (especially sensitive, or extremely young babies or toddlers), the reality is we might have to make changes to OUR lives to meet their needs- adjusting our work schedules, changing jobs, delaying study, working around our partners, or taking extended leave. Some of us will have to leave work entirely for the time and re-adjust our budgets accordingly- it’s amazing what we actually need to survive, as opposed to want.


I remember having to do this a number of times with Henrietta. Sometimes, I missed opportunities, or had to take jobs that were not my dream role, or work funny hours, but as much as it annoyed me (and at times it did!), my number one responsibility was to be her mum and to do what was right for my child, not necessarily what was right for me in that moment. It helped me, when faced with challenges or detours like this, to remember ‘it will be my time in the sun again one day’.


But luckily, for most of us, separation anxiety is a phase, an adjustment to changing situations, and the child begins to smile once again pretty quickly. For these children, it is all about creative management.


15 practical & creative suggestions to help a child

overcome ‘separation anxiety’.

anxiety in children


1.  Many years ago, there was a little girl in my class who was very shy and fragile, and who had difficulty leaving mummy to enter the classroom.  Her mummy made her a little felt pouch and each day, just before leaving, she would blow three kisses into this little pouch, then pin it onto her daughter’s clothes.  Anytime, the little girl felt sad, she could hold onto the pouch and remember that her mummy would be back soon.  It worked a treat. This is my version.


miss you brooch template


Cut out two circles (4cm approximately diameter) from felt. Cut about 1/3 of the top off one of the circles as shown. Embroider your choice of pattern onto this piece for the front face of the pouch. When complete, use blanket stitch to join the two pieces together.  Add a safety pin or brooch pin to the back of the large circle.  Your very own “Miss You” brooch.


miss you brooch back


2.  Ask the practical questions: simple but true. Sometimes, when we reflect upon the simple things with a clear mind, we are able to pinpoint an issue or potential problem. Consider:

  • Who is he/she left with?
  • Who else is in the space (other carers, other children), and how does your child behave around, or feel about, them?
  • What is the environment where the child is left like- does it feel warm, nurturing, friendly, open, inviting?
  • Is there one or two consistent carer/s, essential for the child and adult to build an all important relationship?
  • Is there a familiar rhythm or routine, or does the carer/teacher like to go with the flow/wing it? (Many children cannot cope with ‘going with the flow’ at all.)
  • Is there a drop off rhythm?  If there is, what is it like? Calming? consistent? does it give the child a structure- eg shoes go in the same place, lunchbox on a special shelf in the fridge, greeted with a lavender face or handwash, activity or task ready for the child to join in (shows the preparedness of the carer/teacher). Sometimes, getting a little thing like one of these right can make all the difference. If not, can you suggest one?


3.  Encourage the carer/teacher to set up or invite the child into practical tasks such as cleaning, cooking or baking. I know that when I was running my playgroups, children were soothed and supported when they spotted the bread making paraphernalia ready to go on the outdoor cooking table.  They lost their inhibitions and left their shyness at the gate.  The regular task of making bread rolls for our morning tea was also the perfect remedy for unhappy chaps who were missing mummy and daddy when at preschool.


4. Sensitve children can often be calmed with nature’s bounty- water, clay etc.  Invite the child to dangle a strip of silk in a bowlful of water and play with the movement of it as you leave him or her.  Or the carer may offer the activity of rolling pieces of clay outside.  (Clay/mud/dirt are very settling and grounding for a child, and are used therapeutically in many instances.)


5. We need to make sure WE are prepared and ready . Many children behave like this because they sense in some way that their parents don’t want to leave them, or don’t feel comfortable leaving them.   When we have an expectation that all will be well and good, it most often is. We may need to work on developing this inner expectation.  We may need to do some meditation, practise with positive affirmations, or talk to someone – do whatever works to build strength and courage. Our goal is to be prepared in our minds before the separation time to state ‘ my child will be okay, and is ready to leave my side’. Dont underestimate the power of a child to imitate this newfound belief, ‘that the mum is confident that he or she can handle/take this’.  When you are ready, they often will be too.


6.  If separating from mum (or dad) at drop off is a problem, try swapping roles and have the other parent or partner do it.  Or see if someone other than mum can do the drop…Grandma, a neighbour, or arrange to arrive in time with a close friend and their parent. And be sure to collect them on time, or when you say you will.  Build their confidence in your word.


7.  When the parent drops the child to school/care, the carer or teacher there needs to be able to say to the child, “You tell me when you are ready to go” so the carer has an indication to look out for the child in that moment. This empowers the child to take charge of the moment and seek help to transition, a wonderful beginning for self-regulation.


8.  Start with small separations, maybe 1 hour, then 90 mins etc. Give the child something precious to hold until you return- for example, a set of keys (doubles), or a little bag with a ‘kiss’ in it.  You might like this idea too.


9.  A special piece of jewellery can be another physical token that gives the child a sense of security and connectedness when you are not there.  Why not try a locket with a family photo inside, or a signet ring?  Or you could craft one together…  (pop back next week for a very cool bracelet you and your children might like to make.)


10.  A friend of mine told me about one mother she knows who wrote a little book for her child, to show her what she is doing when she is not with her child. You could do something similar using by either drawing , painting and collaging your day in a little art journal, or perhaps repurpose one of those ‘brag book’ mini photographic albums with 10 or 12 photo sleeves and fill it with pictures in chronological order of you going about your day. Actually, I think this would be a great idea for all young children, not just the ones facing separation anxiety. Do you know most young children (4-5 and under) actually seem to have very little idea what mum or dad is doing when they are at kindy or daycare?  Even when they know mum is a nurse, or works at a shop, or dad works at the post office, in my experience, they often have no idea what you actually do there!


11. In some therapeutic circles, there may be a belief that separation anxiety is more likely to show up in a child who has a ‘thin skin’- in other words, a child who seems to be sensitive to the world and perhaps more susceptible to noise, light, colours, a lack of routine, or other children’s ways.  When my daughter was about five, and showing many of these tendencies, one suggested treatment was for me, as her mother, to massage rose sphagnum oil onto her skin, paying particular attention to her trunk (the heart space) and her limbs (which reach out into, and physically touch, the world. Rose sphagnum is made up of oil, sphagnum peat moss (which is a layer of moss that helps keep nutrients in the earth and acts as a protective barrier), and rose oil. The rose, as well as having a divine scent, is also admired for being the only flower in nature with a balance of head (bloom), leaf, and root systems and may be seen as ‘nature in true perfection’ (as is a young child) so the oil is thought to be a perfect match for treating young children in many instances. Using the massage oil in this way is said to layer another ‘skin’ onto the child and create a boundary or barrier (for want of a better word) between them and the goings-on of the world.  Of course, no one can prove this to be true, or not, but it is a lovely idea.  Regardless, I do believe the act of massage in this way, similar to the benefits new mothers and babies receive during baby massage, would help a mother and child to bond and attach more strongly, and this in itself would possibly give the child strength and courage to step out into the world.  Perhaps this helps them to develop a second skin?


12.  Another slightly esoteric idea but one that may work is to layer the child in many ‘skins’ of clothing as a way of protecting their senses that are on red alert to the world.  Colour might play a part too.  For example, dressing the child in pale versions of yellows and oranges, or lavender shades. But try it and see what works for you.


13. I know mothers (and fathers) who use meditation and prayer to ask the spirit world (call it God, universe, higher power, or what you will) to care for and look after her child when they are not in their care or presence. As someone who (mad or not) has used meditation and positive thinking/asking in this way to keep me safe on long road trips, this doesn’t sound that mad to me! Again, this one can’t be proven but may give mother a sense of peace which may in turn prepare the way for an easier separation time.


14.  On the earthly realm once again, parents can ask to spend a day visiting the place where the child goes- meeting their friends, eating alongside, singing songs and sharing stories, and just observing the child in the space.  This just may settle everyone’s nerves and fears, and give you greater confidence in the people with whom you entrust your little one.


15. Finally, why not utilise your creative spark and make some gifts for the carer with your child?  The act of creating for another with your children- whether you bake, sew, paint, craft, garden, or cook-  is like sending out tentacles of love and devotion to another human being.  Then there is the anticipation of, and the joy for the act of giving that can help the child to shift focus for a moment.  Building bridges between child and carer in every way possible is a noble goal.

What is your best creative tip for overcoming separation anxiety? I’d love to hear your ideas.



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