Separation Anxiety Disorder in children
Friday, June 26th, 2015
For a child to find out that their parents are separating can be heartbreaking. It is natural for your young child to feel anxious, it is a normal stage of development. Separation anxiety can fade away over time however, if your child’s anxiety continues or increases, your child may have separation anxiety disorder. Although this condition may require professional treatment, there is still a lot you can do to help.
What is Separation Anxiety Disorder in children?
Separation anxiety disorder is NOT part of a normal development stage in a child’s life. It is a problem that is serious and emotional, and can cause extreme distress when the child is away from the primary caregiver.
Separation anxiety disorder can be measured by the intensity of your child’s fears, and whether these fears affect their normal activities. The thought of being away from either parent can be very hard on some children. They may go to extreme lengths and lie about being unwell to avoid attending school.
What can cause Separation Anxiety Disorder in children?
The following are common causes of separation anxiety disorder in children:
- Change in environment. In children prone to separation anxiety, it is possible that changes in surroundings?like a new house, school, or day care situation?could trigger separation anxiety disorder.
- Stress. Stressful situations like switching schools, or the loss of a loved one, including a pet, can trigger separation anxiety disorder.
- Over-protective parent. In some cases, separation anxiety disorder may be the manifestation of the parent?s own anxiety?parents and children can feed one another?s anxieties.
What are the common symptoms of separation anxiety disorder?: Worries and fears
- Fear that something terrible will happen to a loved one. The most common fear a child with separation anxiety disorder experiences is the worry that harm will come to a loved one in the child’s absence. For example, the child may constantly worry about a parent becoming sick or getting hurt.
- Worry that an unpredicted event will lead to permanent separation. Kids with separation anxiety disorder may fear that once separated from a parent, something will happen to keep the separation. For example, they may worry about being kidnapped or getting lost.
- Nightmares about separation. Children with separation anxiety problems often have scary dreams about their fears.
What are the common symptoms of separation anxiety disorder?: Refusals and sickness
- Refuse to go to school. A child with separation anxiety disorder may have an unreasonable fear of school, and will do almost anything to stay home.
- Display reluctance to go to sleep. Separation anxiety disorder may make these children insomniacs, either because of the fear of being alone or due to nightmares about separation.
- Complain of physical sickness like a headache or stomach-ache. At the time of separation, or before, children with separation disorder often complain they feel ill.
- Cling to the caregiver. Children with separation anxiety problems may shadow you around the house or cling to your arm or leg if you attempt to step out.
What is the best way to help the situation?
The following tips can help you create a stable and supportive environment for your child.
- Educate yourself about separation anxiety disorder. If you learn about how your child experiences this disorder, you can more easily sympathize with his or her struggles.
- Listen to and respect your child?s feelings. For a child who might already feel isolated by his or her disorder, the experience of being listened to can have a powerful healing effect.
- Talk about the issue. It?s healthier for children to talk about their feelings?they don?t benefit from ?not thinking about it.? Be empathetic, but also remind the child?gently?that he or she survived the last separation.
- Anticipate separation difficulty. Be ready for transition points that can cause anxiety for your child, such as going to school or meeting with friends to play. If your child separates from one parent more easily than the other, have that parent handle the drop off.
- Provide a consistent pattern for the day. Don?t underestimate the importance of predictability for children with separation anxiety problems. If your family?s schedule is going to change, discuss it ahead of time with your child.
- Set limits. Let your child know that although you understand his or her feelings, there are rules in your household that need to be followed.
- Offer choices. If your child is given a choice or some element of control in an activity or interaction with an adult, he or she may feel more safe and comfortable.
- Keep calm during separation. If your child sees that you can stay cool, he or she is more likely to be calm, too.
- Support the child’s participation in activities. Encourage your child to participate in healthy social and physical activities.
- Help a child who has been absent from school return as quickly as possible. Even if a shorter school day is necessary initially, children’s symptoms are more likely to decrease when they discover that they can survive the separation.
- Praise your child?s efforts. Use the smallest of accomplishments?going to bed without a fuss, a good report from school?as reason to give your child positive reinforcement.
If you have noticed any of these symptoms in your child whilst reading this, please contact your doctor for professional help. It is important, within any separation, that the child is always put first and their health and well-being is protected.