Separation Anxiety: Guidelines to Say Goodbye to Clingy Kids?

Separation anxiety for back to school?

Separation anxiety for back to school?

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I’m sure you hear a lot about separation anxiety around back to school time. It’s only July and I’m already dreading “back to school” because my child will be going to kindergarten.  With my first child, we had quite a time with getting him comfortable enough to go into his classroom and leave my side for a lot of the school year.  He’s what you call a “clingy kid.” Well, I wound up staying for way longer than I should. I’m sure I made some mistakes and I know this is classic separation anxiety.  Can you give me a quick was to say good-bye that we  can follow so we don’t make the same mistakes twice?

–Laura, Mom of Max and Julia, New Brunswick NJ

Thanks for your question, Laura!

I actually spoke about this with Parents Magazine in the July 2008 issue.  Separation anxiety is seen in many children to varying degrees.  It can come in the form of crying, whining, clinging, following, silence, withdrawal, or hiding behind a parent.

First, remember, that your daughter is not your son.  She may respond completely differently than you other child did in the same circumstance.  In this case, it’s important not to generalize and “pre-label” your daughter!

Second, there are some things you can do before school that can ease the transition.  Typically the problem of separation anxiety on the first days of school are two-fold—your child is uncomfortable being separated by you but she is also uncomfortable about what’s unfamiliar to her as well.

You can do something about that. Allow her to see her classroom, meet the teacher, and connect with some classmates before the first day of school.  Play in the school playground, walk the halls, and meet the principal.  Essentially, make the unfamiliar, familiar.  I talk more about these kinds of tips in my interview with www.education.com. I will notify our powerful parents when the articles come out.  In addition, I will be doing some tele-seminars on easing the transition back to school which I will let you know about shortly.

In addition, September’s Powerful Word of the month is courage– so get a jump on talking about courage in your household! Your Powerful Words school will help support these messages of courage as the instructors go through September’s Powerful Words curriculum.

Finally, if you are looking for a way to say good-bye without all the drama, please follow my ABCDE Goodbye Plan.  It’s simple and easy to remember—even though it’s sometimes hard to do!

Dr. Robyn Silverman’s ABCDE Goodbye to Separation Anxiety Plan:

(1) Be Affectionate—give a hug and a kiss, tell him how much you love him/her

(2) Be Brief– don’t linger because that will increase signs of separation anxiety

(3) Be Clear that you will be back and if you can, you can even tell them when (after the last school bell, when the clock says 3pm)

(4) Be Directive– “Go show your teacher what you brought from home!” “There’s your new friend, Emma—go say hello!” This gives your child something specific to do, gets her mind off the impending separation, and connects her with someone else in the room.

(5) And perhaps most importantly, EXIT. This doesn’t mean sneak out. You’ve said your goodbyes—wave- smile—and leave. Prolonging the inevitable makes the process harder for everyone.

In the mean time, you still have much of the summer to enjoy.  Talk positively about school and all the great things she will be able to do there.  And for your own sanity, talk positively to yourself—we all know the separation can be as hard on the parents as it is on the kids!

Best regards,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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Why Does My Child Keep Quitting?

Angry boyIs your child quitting everything they start? Need a Commitment Overhaul?

Here is a letter from a parent to Dr. Robyn Silverman asking about why her child keeps quitting his activities. What’s interfering with her child’s commitment level?

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I hate to admit it, but my child is a quitter.  Knowing the Powerful Word of the Month at our school this month is commitment, it seemed that now was the perfect time to ask what’s going on here.  I don’t want to raise a quitter.  Have any ideas on why a child quits everything they start?

–Jan K, Baltimore, MD

The question of commitment and quitting comes up every time our Powerful Words schools present Powerful Words like commitment, determination, attitude, or goal-setting.  As Powerful Parents, we want our children to show commitment and determination.  So what’s making them quit?

Children quit for all different reasons.  Some children feel bored while others feel overwhelmed.  Some children have unrealistic expectations that they are going to be performing the kind of martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, or other sport that they see “in the movies” or in the Olympics on the first day that they attend.  Other children see “today’s activity”  simply as another activity that they do—easily interchanged with football, basketball or dance lessons– so why stick with one thing?  Still other children feel invisible to the instructor, picked on, misunderstood or scared when they take class.

The first major reason for quitting is the instance of a curriculum-based clash. Simply put, when children feel overwhelmed or under-challenged, they will want to quit.  After all, when something is too difficult or too easy, it isn’t fun anymore! The over-challenged child may feel as though he cannot keep up, catch up, or otherwise progress at the pace that the other children in class are progressing.  The under-challenged child may feel uninterested, disinterested, or just plain bored.  You can determine this if your child would rather play with friends than go to class or fights you on practicing when they used to find it exciting to do so. Whatever it is, there is clearly a clash between the child’s learning level and the curriculum they’re learning at this time.  These children will surely start looking for other ways, whether it is in football, hockey, dance or marching band, to fill their time and hold their interest– sometimes, they just keep moving from activity to activity looking for something to hold their interest.  It’s important that we delve into this issue with our child because it’s easy enough to move our children to a different class, get them extra help, or have them take some extra classes to address this issue.

The second major reason for quitting is the case of the value-based clash. If you, as a parent, don’t value what the child is learning at their current activity,  the child will often sense it and want to quit.  For example, if you regard their current activity, like martial arts or gymnastics,  as “just another stop on the way between football and piano,” the child will too.  After all, a child will want to quit something if it has little or no perceived value to the parent.  Children tend to take their cues from their parents—so when Mom and Dad don’t care, neither will they.  As parents, we need to make sure to check our own attitude when determining why our children might be quitting.  If we can adjust our own behavior and attitude, our children will too.

The third major reason for quitting is the often elusive personal-based clash. When children or parents feel uncomfortable at an activity, uncomfortable around a coach or teacher, uncomfortable around another child or another parent who is there at the same time, or undervalued by staff, they will likely want to quit.  Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding or a miscommunication.  Boundaries may have been breached or buttons may have been pushed in some way.  Perhaps the most common personal clash is when the child perceives that the teacher or coach doesn’t “like him” or “care about him”.  It’s vital to find out if something happened between your child and another person in the class so that the issue can be addressed and any misunderstandings can be cleared up.

The fourth major reason for quitting is the instance of the situational-based clash. While the above reasons have a negative undertone causing a “falling away” or a “falling out,” situational clashes are due to an actual lack of money, resources, or ability to continue.  When families do not have the money to pay for lessons, the car to get their children to your class, or the person to bring the child to your school, they will likely need to quit.  There may have been a divorce or a death, a new job opportunity, and illness or a lay-off that caused this situation to arise. Schools and sports facilities are often very sorry to see these students leave, given that they would stay if they could.

Finally, the fifth major reason children might quit is…because they can! We want to make sure that children aren’t creating a pattern of quitting that is being supported by their parents.  Sometimes, we are just too overprotective or too easily swayed by our children’s attempts to get out of fulfilling their promises. While it is easier to have children quit something that making them stick it out til the end, children learn their patterns early.  If they see that they can quit without consequence, they will learn this as a fact and quit whatever feels uncomfortable, challenging, frustrating or boring to them as they develop and become teens and adults.  It may not seem like a big deal when they are 8 years old but it certainly becomes so when they become 18 or 28 years old! Set positive patterns now so that they learn commitment and the benefits of seeing goals and promises through to the end.

Make sure to ask questions rather than lecture.  Why do they want to quit?  Did anything happen in class? Are they bored? Overwhelmed? How do they feel about their friends in class? Their teachers? Is the curriculum too hard? Too easy?  And also, remember, to watch what you say and you do.  If you are quitting your activities, or someone else of influence in your home or family is doing so, children will learn volumes about the loop holes in commitment.  Take your cues from your child’s Powerful Words instructors this month and expand on what they are talking about in class with your children. Discuss it at the dinner table and in the car.  Tell stories about your own triumphs and how you stuck with something even when it was difficult. Talk about the importance of seeing the end and setting goals. And of course, set the precedent that your family always finishes what they start– everyone should have that “no quit, go-for-it attitude!” that helps each member to lead with commitment– and your children will surely learn to follow suit.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Diet Doping: The Scary Link Between Body Image and Drugs

scaleDiet Doping: Getting Thin at any Cost

Dr. Robyn Silverman

For many girls and women, “feeling fat” has become a common part of everyday life.  Dieting has become normal.  Complaining about weight is a social expectation.  And doing anything you can to achieve the perfect thin body, acceptable.

A recent online poll of 993 teens and women has suggested that a whopping 1 in 10 girls and women are using drugs to lose weight even though 67% were in the healthy weight range. What does that tell us?  The healthy weight range is not perceived as thin enough.  Hollywood hard bodies and Vogue model legs and abs are what we’re striving for.  No, it’s not often linked to health, it’s linked to looks.

Often, when attempting to lose weight, young girls subscribe to unhealthy practices such as quick fad diets or acts of purging including vomiting and laxative abuse instead of using a healthy regiment of exercise and maintenance of a balances diet.  Girls and women are looking for the quick fix– what’s going to make them thin NOW- not what’s going to make them healthiest in the long run.  In doing so, they turn to what IS NOT healthy.  In fact, in the poll, 10% of respondents to the poll owned up to taking stimulants like cocaine and speed, 26% said they were abusing diet pills or laxatives and one in 5 admitted to suffering form eating disorders. What’s healthy about that? It’s a practice I like to call “diet doping” and I’ll be talking about it in my upcoming book coming out in 2010.

Think it’s only the caucasian girls?  Nope.  The intense pressure to diet has amazing cross over affects.  Studies over the last 25 years have shown that rate of these subclinical eating practices, dieting and purging, and diet doping are increasing among all social and ethnic classes.

It’s very important that we begin conversations with our girls early about what it truly means to be healthy.  In doing so, we must also commit to being healthy ourselves and refrain from criticizing ourselves, using destructive methods to lose weight, or applauding others who lose weight at all costs as being “disciplined” and “healthy.”  Let’s get back to basics. I mean, remember when healthy meant having good balanced nutrition, energy, good support and well managed stress?  Let’s go back to that. Who’s with me?

Be healthy together– I know many of you already are. All you Powerful Parents out there whose families are engaging in being healthy by attending your Powerful Words Member School are showing your kids YOUR definition of healthy. Doing fun extracurriculars, being around positive people, talking about the link between your character and your physical health– you should all be applauded for taking these positive steps. Keep it going!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Disney Princesses Sexualizing Your Daughters? Dr. Robyn Responds

It can be difficult to cope when it seems that our children are growing up too soon. Parents often have a love-hate relationship with much of the media when it comes to their children. Especially their daughters. On the one hand you have the hypersexualization of women and girls in music videos, magazines, internet games and advertisements, and on the other hand you have the classics we all used to love—like Sesame Street and Disney. But as adults, even are old favorites sometimes get on our nerves. Yes, as parents, we have a new perspective.

The following article is a guest post from Vicki, a parent, just like you, who just wants what’s best for her child. As Powerful Parents who know the importance of character education and values discussions in families, we’d love to hear your perspective. You can read her article as well as my response to her regarding at least some ways that she can deal with her frustrations with the Disney Princesses and Barbie, who have clearly gotten on her last nerve.

The Princesses Are Sexualizing My Daughter

Reagan has been “into” the Disney Princesses for years now. INTO them. She’s got reading books, coloring books, sticker books, puzzles, dress-up clothes, regular clothes, CDs, movies, toys, dolls, you name it she’s had one with a princess somewhere on it. We even went to Disney World in conjunction with her sixth birthday so she could enjoy meeting the princesses while she was still in that phase.

There was a time when we tried to ban the princesses. It was a couple years ago and we were idealistic thinking that if we told everyone that we weren’t “doing” the princesses that they would stop giving her things with princesses on them. That did not work. And the ban seemed to deepen her interest. Funny how that works. We couldn’t really express why we were banning them. That would lead to more questions.

“Why can’t I have that Princess coloring book?”
“Because we don’t do Princesses?”
“Why don’t we do Princesses?”
“Because they promote the wrong image?”
“What’s an image?” “What’s promote?” “Why don’t we do Princesses?”
“Here’s the coloring book.”

That’s not how it would end. She wouldn’t get the coloring book. But eventually we gave in and she did start acquiring that stuff again. At some time we thought we could counteract the Princesses. We introduced her to Veggie Tales, Dora, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Hello Kitty (I will never understand why someone finds princesses better than Hello Kitty. She is the best. The. End.), and many other characters. Her desire was always for the Princesses.

Now she knows practically everything about them. What is starting to bother me is that she’s starting to emulate them. Wanting to be more like them. For a while when she would put on a nightgown with a stretchy neck, she’d pull it off one shoulder and walk around with her head tilted towards that shoulder. And look at us with batting eyes. I would promptly ask her to

“Cover your shoulder, girls don’t dress like that.”
“So and so Princess does.”
“You’re not So and so Princess.”

We could live with that because there ain’t no way she’s exiting the house while under my supervision with a shoulder bare like that (visualize me doing the three snap). Unless she’s got a part in some 80s theater production and has on a super baggy sweatshirt and some type of covering underneath.

BUT NOW!!! THE REASON I’M BABBLING ON!!! Just the other night, after her dance recital, she had a friend spend the night. They were getting ready for bed in the bathroom and this is what I heard:

Reagan: “Do you know who my boyfriend is?”
Friend: “Who?”
R: “E****. It used to be S****, and then P****, but now it’s E****.”
F: Crickets
R: “I’d so kiss him. I really would. I really would kiss him.”

WHAT!!??!!??!!?? Where is she getting this stuff from?!?!? It took a couple of days to process. It’s from the freaking Princess characters. And Barbie, she’s not off the hook either. They all are lost in some way. They all need to be saved. They all find their knight in shining armor (or however he may be dressed). And they all kiss in the end with that stupid look of love between them. And what I’m just beginning to realize is this:

You can’t really tell how old the princesses are can you!?!? Or Barbie…

NO, you can’t. The only one, I believe, who mentions her age is Ariel. Disobeying her father at a ripe old age of 16. All of these Princesses look young and girls can totally see themselves playing the part. In fact, mentally picturing all of them, I couldn’t place an age on any of them. Heck, I could see myself playing the part. Girls are learning, ever so subtly, that at their young age they should be finding their one true love and kissing them and getting married.

I don’t think Reagan knows what she means when she says that she really would kiss this boy. She sees Mommy and Daddy kiss and hug, mind you not enough, but I doubt she actually has the moxie to go up and kiss a boy that she doesn’t even have the guts to tell that he’s her boyfriend. How do I know that? Sunday School. You know, the place they’re supposed to go and learn about Jesus? Reagan told a friend that E**** was her boyfriend. So this girl marches right up to him and tells him. His reaction. Nothing. I’m so glad.

So, what’s a Mom and Dad to do? We’re so deep into Princesses and Barbie. Will nightly conversations about this remedy the situation? Will banning the stuff with zero tolerance starting now work? Where is Dr. Dobson when you want to have a heart to heart with him right on the living room sofa? Pray for us please. And seriously, give suggestions.

Dear Vicki,

It’s frustrating to raise girls when media keeps telling them that they need to look a certain way in order to get attention. The Disney princess enterprise keeps growing, it’s not going anywhere, and it’s certainly something that many parents must deal with everyday.

I’ve got several ideas but let’s start here.

  • Ask her about them: What does she loves about the princesses? You may be surprised. There are always things we like and dislike about friends and other people in our lives– but we don’t shut them out even if we don’t agree with them. Perhaps what she likes about them could be something that you like about them to…which leads me to my next tip…
  • Go Positive: Take the Powerful Words approach and build from the positive side. Find something that you like about those princesses– do they have determination and go after something they really want? Do they have goals and dreams? Do they have nice singing voices? Do they show that they’re good friends to their friends? Are they kind? Grateful? Giving? Start focusing on the positive. Praise what you like.
  • Cite the Negative: You can also be very straightforward about what you don’t like about them so that your daughter is clear about your values. In the spirit of “honesty” month, be clear yet age appropriate. Is it their style of dress? Their choices? Their “pinkness?” We want our daughters to get out of the habit of thinking that girls can only look, act, and be one way. Let them know what bothers you and keep it simple.
  • Model What You Want to See: As you know, since I write a character curriculum and advise parents on instilling values in their children, I often talk about modeling and discussing what you would like to see in your children. Your example is stronger than any 2-dimensional character could ever be.
  • Expose Her to Fabulous 3-D Role Models: Have some great friends or local heroes that really show your daughter what a girl can become? Allow your daughter to have “tea” or lunch with them. The more we can expose our girls to powerful, positive women and teens, the more they will see that reality is much better than fantasy.
  • Get Her Into A Positive Activity: Challenge the stereotypes and ensure that your daughter is involved in activities that isn’t all pink and frills. Choose sports that make her feel powerful. Perhaps a martial arts, power tumbling or modern dance class would bring out a different side of her. Any of the Powerful Words Member Schools will also ensure that she’s learning strong character development—not just the physical—which will get her to thrive from the inside out.

If she knows what you like and what you don’t like, is challenging the stereotypes, and is exposed to powerful, positive women, you might be surprised the next time you pass by the bathroom filled with girls– she may just say something like “I like that she’s good to her friends but she doesn’t always make the best choices.”

Let me know how it goes.

Other articles or cites that deal with similar media topics:

Girls Media Maven

Corporate Babysitter:

Final Call

Packaging Girlhood

Shaping Youth