Separation Anxiety Pocket Hearts: Young children often have trouble separating from their caregivers. It sometimes helps for them to carry transitional objects (ex. a photo) with them to help manage their anxiety during time apart.
- The caregiver can make these hearts for their child on their own, or the dyad can create them together (Click here for a tutorial). The hearts can be substituted by any other handmade or personal items the family desires.
- Just before each separation the caregiver gives the child a heart representing their love and assures the child that they will be reunited. The hearts are not a substitute for taking time with the child to process their anxiety (do not “sneak out” of the house). They can tell the child that if they begin to miss them then they can take out their heart and know that their caregiver loves them, is thinking of them, will come back, etc. Sometimes it might help for the parent to carry around a heart as well representing that their child is always in their thoughts and they are connected (kids like this).
- If possible, take baby steps. Initially, a child might use a heart for a brief separation when the parent is in another room, and then move on to short outings that get progressively longer as the jar gets fuller.
- Each time they are reunited they place their heart in a jar. Children may have trouble recalling all the times their caregivers returned and this provides a nice visual. Looking at their jar will help to assure them that their caregivers always come back.
- Ideally, separations will become easier and they will look to the heart for support less and less until they no longer need it. At this point just thinking about their jar back at home should become enough to assuage any remaining anxiety.
- These hearts are a supplemental intervention. It is more effective when caregivers commit to building trust, following through with what they say will do, and continue to talk to their children about separation and encourage self-expression.
- I have also known children who used a calm bottle to help self-regulate after their caregivers leave (click here)
- More suggestions for dealing with separation anxiety and promoting independence can be found here.