Tears streaming, mouth wailing, face reddening in fear as the class doors open for the first day of nursery school. Sound familiar? For some parents, such behavior aptly describes this rite of passage for their little ones. Separation anxiety is common at different turning points in a child’s life, and preempting it is important in order to help them cope and transition to the next phase with ease.
The Roots of Separation Anxiety in Children
Most common in infants and small children, this normal stage of development typically strikes children between 18 and 24 months and can set the stage for recurring separation anxiety later—depending on the coping skills and temperament of the child and parents.
While most kids experience some form of this mind-state, the quality and levels of anxiety depend on how family members handle anxiety. “If the child’s temperament is sensitive and fragile to start with, chances are they will be more prone to anxiety and will need extra guidance and support to manage it,” she says. “If the parents are anxious themselves, it’s likely that they will be unable to be present in the face of their children’s meltdowns and teach them proper coping skills. It all boils down to how the parent handles anxiety within themselves, which then gets projected onto the child.”
Easing Separation Anxiety in Kids with Yoga
Yoga and mindfulness practices help you learn to recognize what you’re feeling and create a distance between you and your emotions. It’s very hard to worry about other things [while in yoga poses].
Anxiety can look like many things in the body—especially in a child. Often, there’s a shortness of breath or butterflies in the stomach and the fear or stress felt can overtake their mind, disrupting a sense of stability. Turning kids upside down like in Down Dog can help shift their perspective—and the way their body feels and functions. This pose is not only fun but grounding, with both hands and feet touching the floor, providing a sense of support and stability. Bringing the head lower than the knees also changes the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, improving brain function, which is often interrupted by anxiety. It’s also a wonderful place to practice deep, slow breaths, which calm the nervous system.
Practicing Tree Pose in moments without anxiety can help create confidence and balance that will translate to more anxious moments. The ability to be still and find a focal point can become a tool when life feels rocky and unfocused. Getting an anxious child into Tree Pose will help to shift her focus from stress to calm and stillness. Tree feels like strength in the body and mind and this reminder can help kids approach their lives or uncomfortable situations with the same qualities and abilities.
Mountain Pose lets a child experience the feeling of stillness in the body—without orders to stop moving or shame for their behavior.
Practicing simple breathing exercises as a family gives kids a tool they can use in any anxious situation. Belly breathing not only physiologically slows them down and calms the nervous system, but it gives kids something to focus on so they can let other things go.