How To Cope With Parental Separation Anxiety

It's not uncommon to feel lost after you child goes back to school. Follow these expert tips when things become a bit too much.
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Whether your child is heading to school for the first time in September or going back after the holidays, it’s normal to feel a bit lost. Yes, it may be nice that you no longer have to constantly find ways to entertain your children, but you also don’t get to spend as much time with them as you’re used to.

So what do you do when this feeling becomes a bit too much?

“Remember that fears about separating are common,” said Professor Cathy Cresswell, clinical advisor at Anxiety UK. “It might seem like everyone else is getting on fine, but there will be many other families going through what you are.”

We chatted to advisors and experts at Mind, Relate and Anxiety UK to find out the best way to deal with separation anxiety as a parent.

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1. Accept how you are feeling.

Relate counsellor, Dee Holmes said parents shouldn’t worry that what they’re feeling is “wrong” or “bad” and added: “Understand that it’s perfectly natural to feel sadness about this.”

Information manager at Mind, Rachel Boyd, explained: “When you’re a parent, you are bound to worry about your child or children, especially if they are starting school or university.

“It will take some time to get used to not having your children around all the time.”

2. Explain to your child how you are feeling.

Holmes said children will be able to pick up on your anxiety, even if you think they won’t. Don’t run away or try to hide your feelings.

“Do explain to them and acknowledge to yourself that things will different when they go back to school,” she said. “But try not to talk repeatedly about how much you’ll miss them.”

3. Plan things to do yourself.

“Plan things you can do for yourself when they’re back at school which will fill the time you’d normally spend with them,” said Holmes.

“Whether it’s meeting a friend for coffee, doing some exercise or getting stuck into some DIY, the point is that you’re taking your mind off your anxiety and doing something positive.”

4. Break up the first term into manageable chunks.

It can be daunting thinking that when your child heads to school, it’s a full term before they’re home for the holidays again.

Relate counsellor Dr Rachel Davis said: “Break up the first term with little things to look forward to and plans for the weekend or evenings.

“Otherwise it’s a long stretch until Christmas.”

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5. Develop a goodbye routine.

Don’t dread the moment you say goodbye to your child and instead develop a routine. This could be a funny handshake, a song you sing, or a simple kiss and a cuddle.

Relate counsellor, Denise Knowles said: “Develop your goodbye routine and don’t linger, once the goodbye has been said, just go.

“Make the unfamiliar familiar.”

6. Focus on self-care.

Boyd said juggling work, life duties and parenting can mean you forget to take time for yourself - but this is really important.

“Although your focus might be on your children, this could be a good time to think about your own wellbeing,” she said. “Some of the things you can do to look after yourself might be relaxation exercises, yoga or something creative.

“Also, spend time outdoors if you can - research has shown that spending time in green space in particularly can be really beneficial for your mental health.”

7. Meet other parents.

There are bound to be other parents of children at the school who are feeling the same as you - so don’t go through this alone.

“Sharing your concerns and connecting with others who might understand can be really helpful,” added Boyd.

8. Be open with your child to see if they have any worries.

You may not be the only one experiencing anxiety about your child going back to school. Professor Cresswell said it’s important parents acknowledge a child’s thoughts and feelings, too.

“Some children may not be able say exactly what they are worried about, due to fear that they will feel scared and get upset,” she said. “They might just say ‘I don’t know’. That’s ok. You can work with that.

“When you are talking about their fears, be curious. Listen and show that you want to understand them. Use ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions to help them explain what they think might happen.”

Dr Davis said parents should ensure they separate their own anxiety from their child’s, adding: “This way you can help them with what they’re worried about without bringing your own concerns into it.”

9. Talk to your partner or close friend about how you’re feeling.

Don’t keep your thoughts bottled up. Boyd said talking to friends and family about the anxieties or worries you may have can really help.

Speak to your partner, or a close friend, about how you’re feeling ahead of your child going back to school. They may share the same worries and can offer coping mechanisms they have used.

10. Get support if the feelings are overwhelming.

If you are still feeling anxious, don’t be afraid to get support elsewhere.

Boyd said: “If feelings of anxiety or worry are becoming overwhelming or having an impact on your ability to get on with day to day life, you can speak to your GP to find out what support is available.”

For more information:

Anxiety UK provides a range of support services for families affected by anxiety, stress and anxiety based depression. For more information call 08444 775 774 or visit

Mind has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am - 6pm, Monday – Friday). Visit for more information.

Relate is the UK’s largest provider of relationship support. To find out more, visit:

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