We start with the question we got:
Hello – My 10-year-old son is being treated for an auto-immune illness known as PANDAS. His primary symptom is severe, sudden-onset separation anxiety. He often struggles to go to school, feeling a sense of panic once we get to school. Are there any meditations that might be useful for him?
Answer from Dr. Charlotte:
Thank you for sharing your concerns about your son’s separation anxiety, which affects 200,000 children a year in the U.S., about 4-5% of the population. And yes, there are many meditations, along with imagery and mindfulness tools, that can be helpful.
For those of you not familiar with PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep) it is a hypothesized pediatric auto-immune disease associated with strep throat, creating a range of symptoms including anxiety. It is thought that an initial auto-immune reaction to strep produces antibodies that interfere with the part of the brain associated with behavior and movement (basal ganglia). The research is not conclusive, and more studies are needed. However, no matter the cause, in the case of separation anxiety as Oliver demonstrates, effective treatments are similar.
- Preparation is key
Practicing strategies before a feared event is essential; when in panic mode nothing may seem to help. As your son develops an arsenal of inner tools, he’ll likely be able to handle the school situation more easily. Like prepping for an exam builds confidence and leads to a better outcome, rehearsing before a scary experience can do the same.
Start early in a weekend, before the worry of school sets in. Ask how he’d like the drop off and school day to go. Can he imagine a smooth transition? It’s often easier to envision an optimistic future when the situation is far off. Then he can bring that positive picture into his present.
Find out if he imagines obstacles. What are they? Let him know you will help him overcome them. No matter where he is, he can make progress.
- Keep the sense of connection
A simple imagery you can do together is picture sending love on a beam of light from and to each other’s hearts. What color would your son like to send you, and what color would he like to receive? Practice in the same room, in different rooms, and far away from each other until you both feel a strong bond. Let him know you are always connected – even when apart and he’s at school and you’re at work – you are not actually separated because you have that link of love.
When the school day arrives, it’s important to “stay in the moment.” That is, help your child focus on only what is happening “right now.” You can read more about that and some of my suggestions and exercises that can help in next week’s Ask Health Journeys.
These meditations, along with stories of how real kids have used them, are available in my book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success, and can be found right on the Health Journeys website.
I hope these ideas and suggestions can have a positive impact on your son – and all children suffering from separation anxiety and other fears. If necessary, seek in-person professional guidance. It is well worth your family’s efforts and investment.
With love and light,
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