Proximity maintenance and separation anxiety

Find out why children seek proximity to an attachment figure and why they show separation distress

This course session covers:

  • Why children seek proximity to an attachment figure
  • Why they show separation distress when separated from them
  • What these behaviours looks like in practice
  • How you can support children with these behaviours in a nursery or setting

Length of session:

The session should take between 30 to 40 minutes

You will need:

Each participant will need a pen and a note book or a printed copy of the Session 1.5 Proximity maintenance & separation distress task sheet - Available in the downloads section
00:13
As we heard in the previous session,
00:15
John Bowlby described four distinguishing
00:17
characteristics of attachment theory.
00:19
They were a secure base, a safe haven,
00:23
proximity maintenance and separation distress.
00:27
Let's look at the last two characteristics in more detail.
00:32
Perhaps the easiest way to describe proximity maintenance
00:35
is to imagine that the child
00:37
and their key person are attached together
00:39
with a piece of elastic.
00:41
If the key person moves away from the child,
00:44
the child moves to be nearer again.
00:47
They want to keep the key person near enough
00:49
as both a secure base and close enough
00:51
to return to if they need a safe haven.
00:60
As they get older and develop their confidence and security,
01:03
we see this imaginary piece of elastic stretching further
01:07
as they're comfortable to extend the distance
01:09
between themselves and the key person.
01:17
Proximity maintenance is about keeping close enough
01:20
to your attachment figure
01:21
so that you know that they're there for you,
01:23
and that they're available to meet your needs.
01:34
Separation distress is a perfectly rational emotional
01:37
response to being separated from your attachment figure,
01:40
the person you want and need to be with.
01:43
Come on, darling.
01:46
We're most likely to see these when a child is left
01:48
by their parent at nursery or school and gets distressed.
01:52
Attachment theory suggests and supports the idea
01:55
that the child is quit rightly resisting
01:57
what must seem like to them in that moment
01:59
as potential abandonment.
02:03
Often in this situation, practitioners will use distraction
02:06
as a means of settling a distressed child.
02:09
And sometimes this can work,
02:10
but generally what they need most is empathy.
02:14
That is they need sensitive acknowledgement
02:16
of their distress,
02:17
and to have their emotions recognized
02:19
and verbalized back to them.
02:21
As they may not yet have the words,
02:23
or in that moment of distress,
02:25
the ability to express their feelings for themselves.
02:28
It's a normal stage of development for most children
02:31
to feel separation distress
02:33
from a person they're attached to.
02:35
Often, even as adults, we experience separation distress
02:39
from a loved one.
02:41
Allan Godschmied who was the inspiration
02:44
for key personal approach describe what it might be like
02:47
for a child being left in nursery.
02:51
"We can never remind ourselves too often that a child
02:54
particularly a very young and almost totally dependent one
02:58
is the only person who can't understand why he is there.
03:02
He can only explain it as abandonment,
03:05
and unless he is helped in a positive and affectionate way
03:09
this will mean levels of anxiety greater
03:11
than he can tolerate."

Downloads

Task sheet - key person approach - session 1.5 Download
Facilitators guide - key person approach - session 1.5 Download