Saturday, June 16, 2012

Easing Separation Anxiety: A Guide for Teens

Crash Kid is off to spend a week with friends "down the shore" as they say here. Math Man and I are nervous. This is his first extended trip without us or someone else acting in loco parentis. He's an adult now, parental substitutes are no longer required by law. As I watch him get ready, making the shopping list, shopping (with a budget), packing up and organizing meals, I'm reassured that he's ready to do this. Then I think about Jersey Shore (a show I've never watched, and probably shouldn't this week -- see tips below!) and wonder if I have lost my mind.

As Crash and I ran errands yesterday, we talked about the separations to come. This one and the one approaching in eight weeks and nine days (not that he is counting) when he heads off to college. We reflected on previous separations, what made them easier and harder. I teased him that I felt like we were back in the toddler days, dealing with separation anxieties — just this time the roles were reversed. He was leaving us.

I wondered how much of that old advice would apply....

(Revised from the advice for parents of younger children here.)

It's natural for your parent to feel anxious when you say goodbye. Although it can be difficult, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development for your parent. With understanding and some simple coping strategies, separation anxiety can be relieved—and should fade as your parent gets more practice.

Practice separation. Leave your parent for brief periods and short distances at first. Try offering to go to the grocery store for them, or to pick up a sibling at an after school activity. Be sure to return when you said you would.
Schedule separations before naps or meals. Parents are less susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re tired or hungry, they're grateful they don't have to pick you up.
Develop a “goodbye” ritual. Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a request for money, a jingling of your keys, or a cheerful exchange of "Drive safely!"
Allow the parent contact. At times of stress, a brief phone call—a minute or two—with you or a short text message may reduce separation anxiety. Avoid calling from noisy places, or sending photos with strange people in the background. Parents have active imaginations at this stage, which can fuel their anxieties. Keep it short and sweet, and remind them that you love them and are thinking of them.
Help your parents find peer support. Arrange a shared activity with other parents. It will help them to understand that the feelings they are experiencing are normal. If you keep it local, they can walk, exercise can help ease some of the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Leave without fanfare. Tell your parent you are leaving and that you will return, then go—don’t stall.
Minimize scary television and reading material. Your parent is less likely to be fearful if the media they consume do not fan their anxieties. (No Jersey Shore for mom!)
Try not to give in. Reassure your parent that he or she will be just fine—setting limits will help the adjustment to separation.


  1. Oh gosh, I can't even imagine... we are not so far away from these moments here. Time to start practicing!

  2. Anonymous1:57 PM

    This is hilarious! Made me laugh and made me cry and made me remember all over again the terrible, terrible, wonderful, wonderful moments when our kids left us. The advice you have transposed from toddlers to parents works more than it doesn't so, as usual, we are all more alike than not. Marie W.

  3. Fran -- practice helps, it does.

    And Marie -- your comment made me think about John Donne: "Thy firmnesse drawes my circle just
    and makes me end where I begunne" -- God's got me back at the start once again!

  4. This came four years too late for me!--but I will send it along to my mother who, I think will appreciate it.

  5. Julianne5:47 PM

    I'm printing this out and will give it to my daughter in a couple of years. Oh my goodness, how frightening!

  6. Good luck with this

  7. Marissa is totally cracking up. So much of this mirrors the advice camps give to those parents who just can't tear themselves away on opening day.

  8. Stratoz, I'm doing OK with this....and Crash is following the guidelines nicely (I got a lovely text last night, for example).

    Robin, I bet Marissa has more experience with this than she might wish!!

  9. I love this!!!! Practicing it now with my 20- and 16-year-olds. 10-year-old is still in it for a while :)

  10. He's home, safe and sound -- and I still have a lot of practicing to do.....