Fennies are proud of how our children have returned to nursery and settled in after the unprecedented period of lockdown. However, we have recognised that some of you may have some concerns surrounding social anxiety in your little one.

First of all, what is separation anxiety? Separation anxiety can occur when a child feels unsafe or deeply unsettled when away from their carer or parent. According to the NHS, separation anxiety mostly affects children aged 3 months to 5 years, therefore it is important that we recognise these signs when settling back into nursery life. Catriona says it is key for parents to create a feeling of consistency during this time to combat any anxieties, “keeping things as close to how they were before and making as few changes to their environment as possible is key. Having things around that are instantly recognisable and familiar to the child helps and engaging the children in these familiar things will make them calm and therefore give [a sense of] safety to the children.”

If you feel concerned that your child may be experiencing separation anxiety, some things to look out for include disproportionate stress when separated from a loved one, unwillingness to leave home and reluctance to be alone. However, this can be difficult to notice if your child is internalising their post-lockdown struggle. Parents know their own child, so it is important to trust your own judgement and not dismiss anything you may have picked up on. If you are concerned, a great way of overcoming this and initiating communication is through drawing. Catriona recommends “drawing shapes with our fingers on each other’s back and trying to guess the shape can be a good game to help this connection…the more interaction the parent can have, the more they’re going to pick up what’s bothering the child and the easier it will be for the child to either show this through play or talk about it.”

At Fennies, we are aware that some children can struggle with the initial separation from their parents or carers when beginning their journey into nursery life and therefore offer a settling in period during the child’s first week of registration. We are aware that separation anxiety may become an issue for both children and parents who were previously settled, and now must reintegrate back to nursery life. The first thing to note is that any anxiety or stress you may feel is normal and will pass. The practitioners at Fennies will be able to provide support and reassurance and aim to be as accommodating as possible.

Children who are not neurologically typical or with special educational needs may demonstrate social anxiety by regression or hyperactivity, for these children this can be an emotionally intense experience. Catriona explains that encouraging the development of fine motor skills can develop the brain and nervous system; “children will develop at different rates; they will reach their milestones in their own time. It’s so important not to add stress and pressure into this process, the more children can play with their parents, have routine, structure and consistency, the more likely their development will be unimpeded.” She recommends activities such as drawings in which the child follows lines and shapes, colouring in, balancing games and anything involving interaction with other children. “Accept that this might not be a quick process and give it a bit of time to happen, there’s no rush.”

Finally, Catriona says that it is important to note that “this is temporary, imposed and everybody has been in the same situation.” She emphasises the importance of navigating these times at your own pace as this will make children feel more solid and secure, “it’s important to be reassured that there is no rush for this and we’re all in it together.”

Fennies top tips for dealing with separation anxiety:

Emotional literacy:

How parents communicate throughout this transition can play a great role and it is important that what is spoken matches what is going on. Explain why different routines can feel scary at first but will soon become normal. It can help to share some things that you find tricky to help children realise  that how they are feeling is normal.

Bedtime:

Consistent bedtime routines can play a huge role in supporting your little one’s development and wellbeing. Limiting screen time before bed and replacing these with alternatives  such as drawing, reading a bedtime story, or playing with building blocks would be beneficial.

Developmental Play:

The curriculum at Fennies encourages developmental play but it can also be fun to incorporate this at home. Activities in which a personality is projected onto inanimate objects like dolls, cuddly toys or figures can contribute towards emotional development and encourages empathy.