Strategies for Separation Anxiety at Church

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It was inevitable.  If my husband or I dropped our son off in the church nursery, there would be blood curdling screaming, a clenching of every finger around our legs, and a domino effect with the other children in the room.
Our nursery workers were equipped as superheroes with patience, prayer, determination, and compassionate care, yet still the battle of separation anxiety raged on.  Our son was resolved to never leave our sight ever in his entire life.
He won that battle for months on end.  I believe he was just over two before we were able to leave him in the nursery for one hour.  So we celebrated small victories, discovered a LOT through the process, and became ever more grateful for those superheroes in the church nursery.  We also learned to empathize with parents going through similar stages with their own children.  It can be a hard fought battle for everyone involved.
As I’m writing this, the little man is delighted to be sleeping over at his grandparents for the evening; a feat that we would have never deemed possible a year ago.  Now that we are on the other side of separation anxiety, we can provide some strategies for others.  Included here are tips for nursery workers and parents dealing with this very real early childhood fear.  Hopefully they will provide the support needed to get through this tough phase.
Strategies for Parents to Utilize:
1.  Schedule brief periods of separation with a trusted family member or close friend to allow your child to develop ease in your absence and trust that you will return.
2.  Ensure that your child is well rested, healthy, and fed prior to the church service.
3.  Stay calm and assured during the separation.  Since children naturally absorb insecurities, remain confident in your child and in the nursery workers’ care.
4.  Do not sneak out of the room, but do leave in a timely manner.  Belaboring the process accentuates emotions.
5.  Develop a special goodbye routine.  It could be a silly tickle, a high five, a hug, kisses in the hand to keep, kisses thrown in the air to catch, or a favorite phrase such as “Goodbye Crocodile” and “See you later Alligator.”  Say goodbye in this way on a regular basis.
6.  Realize that this is a natural developmental phase.
7.  Pray for your child before the separation and throughout the church service.
8.  Celebrate small victories and encourage your child in love.
Strategies for Nursery Workers to Utilize:
1.  Be familiar with early childhood separation anxiety.
2.  Create an aesthetically pleasing environment that welcomes babies and toddlers.  Within the room, provide a quiet corner that is calm and inviting for children who prefer to observe rather than participate.
3.  Greet the parents and children warmly.  Crouch down and speak to children on their level.
4.  Establish predictability in the nursery and a regular schedule of events.
5.  Prepare for transitions with songs, picture cards, finger plays, clear directions, prayer, etc.
6.  Allow children to assert independence and control with small choices.
7.  Ensure that the parent can be contacted during the service if necessary.  Establish a limit to the crying that the parent is in agreement with.
8.  Support parents with prayer, encouragement, and sensitivity.  Above all, be a voice of compassion.

Need More Ideas? Check out this great article on Sojourn Kids with help for Separation Anxiety at Church.

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