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What to Do for a Kid’s Severe Separation Anxiety – More Tips from Dr. Charlotte Reznick

07 Mar

We handed off this question about a 10-yr-old boy’s extreme separation anxiety to none other than nationally known child psychologist, Charlotte Reznick, PhD, a widely respected authority on such matters and author of the bestselling book, The Power of Your Child's Imagination. She teaches and lectures all over, writes for Psychology Today and Huffington Post, and creates guided imagery audios for children, some of which can be found in our catalog. 

In last week’s Ask Health Journeys, Dr. Charlotte answered his question and provided some really smart suggestions to this concerned father. As promised, this week Dr. Charlotte provides more tips on coping with separation anxiety. Read on!

Dear John,

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.

Here are some steps and skills that have helped the children in my practice reach their goals.

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.

Learn a calming breath

Whether we call it “the balloon breath,” deep breathing, or meditation, a slow deep breath directed two to three inches below the naval helps center and balance. This is an important foundation for overcoming the brain’s “flight or fight” response when your son feels panic. (The amygdala is activated and the frontal cortex appears to shut down so one cannot think logically.) When he learns to self-regulate with his breathing, he can become calmer and clearer.

Try a minute twice a day (about 10 breaths) and increase by five breaths every week or two until a child reaches five minutes. Listening to specific relaxing CDs can move things along. There are many resources on this Health Journeys site and at ImageryForKids.com on the Shop page where I recommend The Nine Foundation Tools CD. It has short (three to five minutes) tracks with several inner mindful tools that can help your son along his journey of managing his fears, starting with The Balloon Breath. He can listen to The Balloon Breath and one other Tool each day.

Be mindful in the moment

  1. Before leaving the house, remind your son to imagine the school day flowing easily. Since he has been using the Nine Tools to help him work through any obstacles over the weekend (and over time), this may be easier to access.
  2. Start slow breathing and continue while walking or driving to school. He may put his hand over his heart center or on his belly for added assurance.
  3. Stay in the moment with thoughts and verbalizations like, “Right now, I am okay; “Right now, nothing bad is happening;” “I can do this, I am safe.”
  4. Remind him of his “bubble of safety” from the “Feeling Safe” track of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination. (http://imageryforkids.com/ Activate the connection bond between you with the loving beam of light.

I hope these 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,

Dr. Charlotte

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award