Aug 21, 2019

How to Handle Separation Anxiety at Church

Anxiety separation is a common happening in children's ministry.  It is especially prone to happen when a new child is checked into a classroom.

Tears.  Clinging.  A look of fear.  Awkwardness.  Embarrassment.  These are all words that may be associated with anxiety separation.

The question is not "is it going to happen?"  Because it will.  The questions to ask is "what do I do when a child is exhibiting anxiety separation."

Let's talk about that.  What do you do when a child is showing separation anxiety?

Prepare the child ahead of time.  Talk with them about what to expect at drop-off and prepare them.  You want the drop off to be something they are already familiar with.  If you don't prepare them, they will face an even bigger challenge since they don't know what is happening.

The quicker the drop off the better.  As a parent, it's not easy seeing your child crying and demonstrating signs of anxiety separation.  But the longer you stay, the harder it will be for your child to stay.  Quickly get the child involved in the rhythm of the classroom and they will forget about mom and dad leaving.

You might even consider this - don't let parents over the threshold of the classroom.  When parents walk into the classroom, it is more difficult for the child to separate from them.

If the child is crying, ask the parents how long they want you to wait before you contact them.  This takes the guessing out of it and makes it easier for the parent to leave the child.  If you don't ask them you won't know when they want you to contact them.  Some parents will say "let them cry until they stop."  Other parents will say, "if  he is still crying in 15 minutes, please let me know and I will come get him.  This one little step will make it much easier to contact the parent with confidence.

Let the child bring something from home.  If the child is still struggling after a few weeks, consider letting him or her bring an item from home.  It can be a family photo, a stuffed animal or other item that reminds them of home.  Whenever they feel a connection to home, it can help relieve anxiety.

Find a distraction.  Try to shift the child's attention away from their parents to a toy, video or other distraction that will take their mind away from their anxiety.   

Keep a positive attitude.  It's not easy walking away from a child when he or she is crying.  But parents have to pretend like it’s not hard.  Kids can pick up on their parent's anxiety and if the parent is struggling, they will cue in on that.  Encourage parents to keep a smile on their face, even though it's not easy.

Your turn.  What are some other methods or strategies do you employ when a child has separation anxiety?  Share with us in the comment section below.

1 comments:

I have found that in some cases, when the child is rebelliously adamant or at times violently fearful and behaves in a way that is uncontrollable for both the parent and the volunteer/teacher, asking the parent stay with the child in the classroom and work with you for a few weeks helps. It also gives you a chance to get to know both child and parent and maybe even open a door for ministry to the whole family. 95% of the time within 3 weeks the child bonds with the teaching team, becomes comfortable with their surroundings, and no longer wants to act out or respond in fear when parents leave.

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