Understanding childhood and separation anxiety as a parent

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by Stacey Turner
author of I’m Going To Nursery

As a professional I have helped many children to overcome separation fears and settle at nursery and during the early years of primary school. It’s much more common than people think, and even in those children who don’t usually suffer; all children have the wobbles at some time! I have undertaken a lot of research and I’ve been through an extreme situation of separation anxiety that was borderline separation anxiety disorder, experiencing first-hand what it is like with my eldest daughter. Having experienced the situation on both sides, as a parent and a teacher, I can offer you the reassurance that we can support our little ones through this difficult time.
I can promise you, it’s not naughty behaviour! Anxiety is an emotion. It’s anxious thoughts creeping in – usually in the expectation that something bad is going to happen – and the anxiety takes over. They manifest in how your child’s body reacts to these anxious thoughts in a fight or flight way. While every child and family are different, the basic patterns of anxious thinking, physical and behavioural symptoms appear in a similar way.

The crux of it is, we want to alleviate and overcome anxiety. It’s not only traumatic for the child, it is for the parent/s and can be for the whole family. It’s like a domino effect that impacts people along a chain, as the family group tries to handle the distress. If we don’t try and overcome anxiety, it can end up having greater effects on children and their families as they get older.

How do we tackle anxiety and stop it becoming all encompassing or a problem in the future?
• By acknowledging this emotion and working to break the thought pattern and/or learning to manage thoughts.
• By offering lots and lots of reassurance and showing our little ones that it’s okay to feel this way, but it doesn’t have to be like this!
• By facing fears and becoming ‘brave’, we teach our children confidence, resilience and to be problem solvers, which is an incredible achievement.

What is separation anxiety?
Anxiety is provoked in a young child by separation, or the threat of separation, from the child’s mother, father, or primary carer. Separation anxiety is often a normal stage of childhood development from approximately eight months (sometimes younger, as was our case for little Molly) to five years, sometimes older. It can reappear at times of change
and stress.

Separation anxiety disorder:
Children with separation anxiety disorder feel constantly worried or fearful about separation. You may be dealing with a child who is constantly refusing to be separated from you, displaying panicked reactions and complaining of physical symptoms that can’t
be soothed.

How do I know if my child has anxiety issues?
Crying, screaming, shouting, throwing a tantrum and clinging to the main carer are healthy and normal reactions and vary in length and intensity between each child. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits. With the right support, children can usually overcome separation in time. Each child is different and this needs to be taken into consideration.

If your child has separation anxiety they may:
• Be very clingy.
• Retreat to a corner or hide under furniture.
• Have difficulty settling back to a calm state.
• Be reluctant to go to sleep. When a child closes their eyes, you disappear and this can stimulate nightmares, sometimes they are very scary.
• Wetting or soiling the bed.
• Experience lots of toileting accidents.
• Refuse to go to nursery, preschool or school, even if your child likes it there usually and enjoys being with their friends.
• Complain of physical sickness such as a headache or stomach ache just before/at the time of separation.

• Fear something will happen to a loved one.
• Worry that they may be permanently separated from you.
• Have little appetite or pick at and complain about food.

If your child’s separation anxiety seems to appear overnight, there is the possibility it could stem from a traumatic experience and is not separation anxiety. The symptoms may appear the same, but are treated differently.

According to the website, anxiety disorders are estimated to affect 3.3% of children and young adults in the UK. Other websites indicate this percentage to be higher.

To stop anxiety manifesting, it is important we face and overcome it together.

Stacey Turner, is a mum, teacher and author of ‘I’m Going To Nursery’ and other books in the My Tiny Book series.
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Family mediation

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by Sarah Brookes
Brookes Family Mediation

– a better way to resolve the issues arising from a relationship breakdown

The breakdown of a relationship is very often extremely stressful and upsetting, particularly so when children are involved. It can be incredibly difficult not to allow feelings of hurt or anger to influence the important decisions that need to be made for yours and your children’s future. Family mediation helps people who are separating, or have separated, to discuss and agree the future arrangements for children and/or finances. Family mediators are professionally trained to manage and support constructive discussions; and to do so in an entirely impartial and non judgemental way; towards achieving agreed solutions. Mediated agreements are less likely to break down than arrangements ordered by the court. Government studies (2004-2010) indicate that mediation provides more sustainable resolutions than the court process.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and all shades of weird and wonderful. All families are unique; they all function in unique ways that work for them. As parents, we constantly make both big and small decisions for our families, taking in to account the quirks and needs of all.

When parents separate they need to find a new way for the family dynamics to work. The need for them to make decisions, based on their knowledge of what works best for the children, does not end with their relationship; they remain parents, with all of the associated responsibilities.

Communication often breaks down, or becomes very difficult, on separation. Trying to reach agreement, so that decisions can be made, on such emotive issues as arrangements for the children, can be very difficult, and can feel overwhelming. In those circumstances, many parents turn to the family courts, and allow a Judge to decide the arrangements for their children. Whilst the Judge will undoubtedly know what is best for his own family, he does not know your children and all their little quirks, and cannot know better than you, what arrangements will work best for your children.

Court Orders tend to deal with the here and now, they cannot provide for, or anticipate, all future events, and they do not replace the need for communication between parents. Sadly, Court proceedings often serve to increase difficulties in communication.

The very adversarial nature of court proceedings brings out our instinctive desire to win; with each party trying to persuade the court that their position should be adopted, it become easy for the ‘winning’ to become the goal. This is no criticism of the parents who find themselves going through the court process; this is the way the system works, and is why court proceedings in family matters are intended to be, and should be, an absolute last resort.

A final court judgement will inevitably create a perceived ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. The resulting imbalance is not conducive to positive and cooperative future relations, and the parent’s ability to communicate will have been set back considerably.

As parents, there will be an ongoing and most likely long-term need for communication between you; consider such things as school choices, medical attention, teenage issues, graduations, weddings, for example. Whilst communication after separation can be very difficult, there will almost always be some level on which it is able to work.

When parents do not find a way to communicate, children can often end up acting as messengers between them, whether asked to or not. Misunderstandings are almost inevitable and tension and resentment can easily build. Even with the best of intentions, in those circumstances, it can be very difficult not to show, or even verbalise, negative feelings about the other parent in front of the children. It is a heavy burden for a child to act as peacekeeper between their parents. Children, in most cases, love both of their parents, and do not want to have to choose between them, or to hear one of their parents denigrated by the other. When children face having their loyalties divided between their parents, they undoubtedly suffer emotional harm, at a time when they are already facing the difficult changes brought about by the separation of their family.

In family mediation, parents are supported and assisted by a trained mediator, to communicate, and to work together, to make joint decisions for their children; by focusing on the children’s individual needs. Having worked together, rather than battled against each other; and having taken joint responsibility for the shape of their future, rather than having had a decision imposed upon them; the potential for feelings of resentment and future conflict is hugely minimised. A way of communication will have been established, which will live beyond the mediation process. Children will unquestionably benefit from having their future arrangements decided by the people who know and love them best; who have made decisions with their needs at the forefront of their minds.

Sarah Brookes spent 16 years working as a family lawyer in Eastbourne, before setting up Brookes Family Mediation. Sarah is passionate about the benefits of mediation. If you are uncertain about whether mediation is right for you, or if you have any questions, give Sarah a call on:
01323 411629 or email her:
or for more information go to:

How to survive your child’s birthday party – planning, celebrating and beyond

By | parties, Relationships | No Comments
by Lucy Gill
Manager, Gymboree Play & Music Surbiton

The special day has finally arrived after what seems like months and month of planning and preparation. The three tiered ‘Peppa Pig’ cake is in the fridge, the ‘Paw Patrol’ balloons are filled with helium and the entertainer is armed with all three verses of your little one’s favorite ‘Mr. Tumble’ song.

What could possibly go wrong?
Shock, horror, it’s the morning of the party and your darling child tells you that; Peppa Pig is no longer cool, they now hate Paw Patrol and have apparently never even heard of Mr Tumble! In fact, they now want a Superhero party just like Sally had last week!

How do you react?
Full on panic and a crazy dash to the supermarket? A last minute Internet order to try and make sure your little one has everything they could possibly want? Or take a breath, smile and think “actually, none of that really matters”.

Yes, you’ve spent a small fortune to make this party ‘the best one yet’ but remember, with all your friends and family in one place, your child surrounded by presents, cake, food, balloons and a day dedicated just to them; this is definitely more than enough love, fuss and attention they need.

Having worked as a party leader for many years, I am going to give you my top tips on how to survive your child’s birthday party.
• Send out your invitations in plenty of time. The competition for that Saturday afternoon slot can be tough; don’t risk leaving it to late and being disappointed.
• Consider sharing the day with a friend. Birthday parties can be expensive and lots of planning, why not share the load?
• Don’t focus too strongly on one theme. Children tend to change their minds very quickly. Think of a theme that can be easily adapted, examples are jungle safari, football, pirates and princess or under the sea!
• Don’t go overboard on the food. I have often seen more food provided at a children’s party than on offer at a wedding buffet! Think about what your child has for lunch; add a few treats – that’s all you need.
• Provide some nibbles for the adults. This is a nice touch as sometimes a bag of rice cakes and a few grapes might not suffice.
• Dress your little one appropriately for the activities planned. Although you want to put your little one in an amazing outfit for everyone to see, make sure they can still move around and make the most of their party.
• Don’t forget the candles, matches and a knife to cut the cake, these fundamentals can be easily missed!

Lastly, don’t be shocked if your child, screams, cries, completely ignores the entertainer or even falls asleep. We see it all, just relax and remember that everyone goes through it one way or another.

It may sound cheesy but you are doing a great job and the reality is, how much you spend on the party bags or how big the venue is, doesn’t reflect what a fantastic parent you are, and it certainly doesn’t reflect how much you love your child.

Don’t forget, when your child’s birthday is approaching, and you’re looking for somewhere to celebrate their special day, Gymboree Play & Music creates great value, tailor-made parties for under fives. Please get in touch with your local branch, we would love to help you celebrate
and creating lasting memories!

Autism Spectrum Disorder

By | baby health, children's health, Education, Mental health, Relationships | No Comments

A way of life for nearly three million people

by Leila Stayton-Dyke (BSc, PGCert, MSc, BCBA)
Early Action for Autism

Autism affects more than 700,000 people in the UK – that’s over 1% of the population. If you include family members, autism is part of daily life for 2.8 million people throughout the country.

Early recognition is important in order to allow children to reach their full potential
Each person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has different strengths. There is not a fixed set of behaviours which result in a diagnosis of autism. There are a range of traits including difficulty with communication and social skills, and ritualistic behaviours. Diagnosis is far from simple.

Parents of a young child are likely to be given conflicting advice about when developmental milestones should occur. They may be told that ‘children are different, they learn at different rates and in different ways’, so how do we know when developmental delays are part of an underlying condition?

Autism in the early stages of development
It may be difficult to see the early signs of autism as they can be subtle or attributed to a baby simply being laid back.

The initial signs are often related to the baby’s gaze, hearing and play. A young child with autism may appear not to see people, and may look out of the corner of their eye. The child may initially appear to be deaf, but rarely actually has any loss of hearing. Children with autism may also appear to have a general lack of interest in their surroundings.

As children get older the differences in development may become more apparent. Parents may notice a lack of empathy, different reactions to sensory stimuli – for example, finding noises, textures or sensations dramatically over or under stimulating. Refusal to try unfamiliar foods or to eat in unfamiliar settings, remaining in nappies, repetitive play activities and difficulties with the world not being exactly the way they would like, may also be seen.

What should I do if I see these early signs?
Health professionals should listen to all parental concerns. Take a family member or friend to visit your GP or Health Visitor. Go with a list of concerns, no matter how small, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. What you have observed might not be a sign of autism but you know your child best.

Getting a diagnosis of autism will allow children and their families to receive the education, support and services they require as they grow older. Due to the complex nature of autism the process is time consuming. However, there are specialist services and support groups immediately available; take time to talk to other families in a similar situation and join online groups.

Early recognition means that interventions can start. Research has shown that early intervention – programmes such Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), Speech and Language Therapy (SLT), and Occupational Therapy (OT) are highly effective in supporting a child with autism. These evidence-based practices allow children to maximise their potential and reduce the delay from the normal patterns of development.

Children with autism crave sameness and routine, and breaks from that can often cause them to become disruptive – so it’s important that interventions begin as early as possible before these patterns of behaviour become established.

Early intervention ABA programmes are fun, motivating and creative. They successfully develop areas such as communication and social skills. Teaching a child to communicate their immediate desires results in a reduction of difficult problem behaviours and is an essential and ongoing element of an ABA programme. In turn, social skills such as increased eye contact and early conversation skills are taught. When started early, teaching self-help skills enables the child to become as independent as possible, for example, getting themselves dressed in the morning. By targeting selective eating, ABA programmes ensure children have a balanced healthy diet, leading to future long-term health.

Early Action for Autism is a centre for children with autism and related developmental disorders.
We provide specialist 1:1 ABA therapy, programme consultation and individualised training.