Separation Anxiety After Loss: Supporting Your Child and Promoting Healthy Attachment

separation anxiety and grief in children

Separation Anxiety After Loss: Supporting Your Child and Promoting Healthy Attachment

Grief comes in many different forms, and for children, it can be especially difficult to process. When a loved one dies, it’s natural for children to feel sad, confused, and even scared.  In addition, when a child is separated from a parent or caregiver due to divorce, illness, or any other reason, the grief can be even more intense. 

When a child experiences a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, it can be difficult for them to cope without that emotional support. In some cases, children may also experience separation anxiety in an effort to maintain their connection with their parents.  In this blog post we will discuss how loss can impact attachment relationships with young children and ways that parents can support healthy attachment over time.

A child who has experienced a sudden loss may feel like they’re in danger or that something bad will happen to them or the people they love.  For children who are grieving, separation anxiety can be especially difficult to cope with. They may feel like they are constantly being torn apart, and that they are not safe or secure without their loved one by their side.  If your child is experiencing separation anxiety, here are a few things you can do to help: 

-Validate your child’s emotions.

-Don’t try to hide your own emotions from your child. They will pick up on your sadness and confusion, and it will only make things harder for them. 

-Help your child understand what is happening. If possible, explain the situation in terms that are age-appropriate. Try to avoid using adult language or complicated explanations that might confuse them. 

-Make sure they have a support system.  Talk to your child about what they are feeling. Let them know that it is okay to feel sad, scared, or angry.  Encourage them to express their feelings in whatever way they feel comfortable- writing, talking, drawing, etc.

-It can be helpful to understand the stages of grief that your child is likely going through. Grief can be unpredictable, and your child may not follow the typical progression. However, understanding the basics can help you to better support them.

-It might be helpful to incorporate books and writing rituals as a way to help your child process their grief in a safe and non-threatening way, while also promoting healthy bonding and attachment.  Here are some recommendations for options you might consider:

1.  The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Rowland and Baker

This book is a helpful way to open up a discussion about a loved one who has passed and how you might want to memorialize their life and the interactions that you’ve had with them.

The Memory Box

The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families (Memory Box) by Rowland and Baker

This is a book that accompanies the memory box book above and can be done together or we can work on it in a family session.  

Items for Bonding with Dad:

Draw with Dad!: The Two-Person Doodle Book

Items for Bonding with Mom:

Mom and Me: An Art Journal to Share: Create and Connect Side by Side (Volume 4)

Draw with Mom!: The Two-Person Doodle Book

Items for Bonding with a Parent:

The Us Journal: A Parent-Child Journey of Love and Discovery

Lunchbox Notes for Separation Anxiety/School:

25 School Lunch Box Notes For Kids, Inspirational Motivational Cards

These lunch box notes are a great way to build connection with your child even when you are physically apart.  The consistency of the letters over time will serve as a foundation of trust for your child as they will come to expect and find comfort in the consistency of this relational pattern. 

Your child is looking for something reliable and consistent outside of your relationship with them and this is a way to provide your child with a ‘transitional object’ in the form of your comforting and reassuring words in a letter format.-

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