Case Study >   Separation Anxiety


billy’s STORY


Billy is a sensitive 5 ½ year old who recently started school and often complains of a stomach-ache in the mornings. He gets upset when separated from his parents especially when dropped off at school. In fact, his parents need to remain in his line of sight until his class is walked into their room. Both parents are sad and frustrated at seeing Billy so anxious. Emotionally drained, they have tried different ways to help Billy but have not had much success. Billy’s parents had hoped he would simply “just grow out of it.”

Billy’s parents first needed to get a better understanding of Billy’s anxious behaviour.  They learnt how to:

  • Use strategies for handling Billy’s anxious behaviour;
  • Teach Billy about his thoughts and feelings; and
  • Teach Billy simplified realistic thinking skills that helped him focus less on his worries.

Billy’s parents then set about using Fishwah to create a goal broken down into small practical steps from the easiest to the more challenging steps; designed to help Billy gradually and consistently do more without fear of being separated from his parents.


Goal Title:  ”Having a happy start to my school day”

Step Description


Step 1:  I arrive at school with one of my parents and my sister in time to line up. I sit in line with my friends without crying.

 Going to the park with Dad

Step 2: Mum or Dad take me into school and I play in the playground while they watch me. Mum, Dad or my sister help me find my friends. I sit in line with my friends without crying

Have a special afternoon treat of my own choice on the way home from school

Step 3: Mum or Dad take me into school and I play in the playground while they watch me. I find my friends by myself. I sit in line without crying.

 Play-date with a friend

Step 4: I get dropped off at the school gate and my sister walks me into school and helps me find my friends. I line up happily when the bell goes

Go out for dinner to my favourite restaurant

Step 5: I get dropped off at the school gate and my sister walks me into school and I find my friends. I line up happily when the bell goes

 Go to see a movie with a friend

Step 6:  I get dropped off at the school gate by myself and I walk in and find my friends. I line up happily when the bell goes

 Take two friends to play laser tag


In addition to setting up the goal and steps, Billy and his parents used the Fishwah tool to setup rewards for achieving steps. This was an effective way to encourage Billy to try things a little challenging for him. Some rewards were small and included fun activities and the use of images for these rewards added a great visual and extra motivation. These rewards helped acknowledge and validate Billy’s bravery, progress and successes.

For this type of goal, continued practice is the key to success.  Billy had to repeat each step at least three times until the situation no longer caused excessive anxiety.  During the goal setup process Billy and his parents were able to add repetitions to each step to indicate how many times Billy and his parents had agreed that he would repeat a particular step.   With each successive practice, his self-confidence started to build and he was beginning to realise what he was capable of.

Billy’s parents helped him to record his experiences, his successes, his feelings and anything he learnt along the way in his online journal. These journal entries provided a great record of achievement that Billy and his parents looked back on when motivation dropped.

Billy’s Parents did get stuck a few times and were able to get some practical and useful tips and strategies from the Fishwah site.

Within three weeks, Billy’s parents began to see results. Within 8 weeks, Billy had completed his goal successfully and is now relaxed and happily kisses his parents goodbye each morning when dropped off at school.  His parents are proud of Billy and the results they achieved together.

Some obstacles they encountered

At the beginning Billy was worried that he would be forced to do things that he felt he couldn’t do. It was important that Billy was a willing participant in the process, or his parents would be fighting an uphill battle.

At one point Billy was reluctant to move to the next step, so his parents added a new step to bridge the gap between the two steps.

There was another time that Billy wasn’t ready to move onto the next step.  His parents reset this step and Billy was able to continue to practice this step until he was ready. To Billy’s delight he did receive his original reward for this step for the effort he was putting in.

What results were achieved?

  • Billy became more independent and self-confident.
  • Billy’s parents learnt some great skills to apply to their own fears and worries


The Fishwah tool provided an effective structure, a clear and collaborative process for Billy and his parents and an engaging platform to motivate Billy to achieve his goal.

Parental involvement is essential to the success of these types of goals; the extent of the involvement is generally determined by the age of the child.

Fishwah has been designed to empower parents to help their own children. However, it may be appropriate, particularly where the anxiety is severe, to see a health professional in addition to using Fishwah.