Post-Pandemic Separation Anxiety

Dr. Corinne Masur

More people are getting vaccinated, spring is coming, and little by little we may be able to get out more than we have been.

This is a good thing, right?

Well, it IS a good thing, as long as we continue to use precautions like mask wearing and social distancing and hand washing. This spring more children may actually get to go to school and daycare and this summer children may get to go to camp and families may actually be able to go on vacation.

BUT we need to be prepared for some increased separation anxiety for some children – and even for some adults.

We have gotten used to hunkering down at home and spending more time there than ever before.  And as hard as it has been, as claustrophobic as it might have felt at times, as much as we all yearned for the freedom to be able to go where we wanted, it is possible that some of us will find it difficult to go back out into the world to do the things we think we want to do.

Even now, trips which used to be mundane can feel like a big deal.  For those of you who have worked at home, have you tried visiting the office yet?  Have you tried driving to places you used to go routinely which you haven’t been to in months?  It can feel strange to do these things; it can be anxiety provoking.

So, assume that your children will feel some of these feelings of strangeness when they try to do things they haven’t done in months.  They may be excited – but they may also have trepidations; they may be hesitant; they may ask questions like, “is it safe?” or “will my friends recognize me?”

The best advice we can give, given that none of us have been through anything like this before, is the following:

      – Prepare your children for what is coming.  If they are going back to daycare or school in person – or back to church or synagogue or music lessons or play dates, start talking about it a few days in advance.  Tell them what it will be like.  Tell them that they might have worries or questions and that they are welcome to talk with you about it. Tell them how you expect them to behave and remind them of what is required in these situations.

     – Take it slowly.  Do not assume that everyone will be on board right away with doing things they have not done for a year.

     – Expect some last minute demonstrations of anxiety.  Before doing something that they have not done before or something they have not done in a long time, it is not unusual for a child to develop a stomachache or a headache or to feel ill in some other way. This is their body talking and saying what they cannot say with words, “I’m afraid to do this!”  Remember, children do not develop these symptoms on purpose.

And adults, take it easy on yourselves as well. You may feel anxious when your children start back to school full time or go for sleepovers at relatives’ or friends’ houses.  You are used to having them close by. And again, as difficult as it may have been at times, it may have become so familiar that it feels strange to have them away from you. You may feel relief…and you may also feel nervous.  Give yourself time to get used to your children doing more on their own away from the house – and reassure yourself that ALL of you need to learn how to be more independent again.

One thought on “Post-Pandemic Separation Anxiety

  1. Since posting this several people have written in saying that they are also worried about their pets! The dogs and cats have gotten used to having everyone at home – it has been paradise for them! They will NOT be happy when everyone starts leaving the house again!
    CM

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