Child separation anxiety can be a significant concern for parents during various growth stages of their children. Challenging life circumstances can also add to the likelihood of separation anxiety in kids. Could your child be experiencing separation anxiety?
In his “Psychology Today” article entitled “What is Separation Anxiety?” Eugene Beresin M.D., M.A. shares the following:
“Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is the childhood condition in which virtually any detachment from a parent is experienced as a life-threatening danger. It’s a state of true, yet unwarranted, panic.”
Separation anxiety can happen during a variety of stages in your child’s development. That includes:
- Separation anxiety in babies
- Separation anxiety in toddlers
- Separation anxiety in kids
- Separation anxiety teenager
If you suspect separation anxiety in your child, what should you do? The first best step is to do some research on the symptoms involved. And if those symptoms describe what your child is experiencing, decide what you can to help eliminate those stressors. Considering counseling for your child is also a wise consideration.
What Are the Symptoms of Child Separation Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal part of the child/teen growth process so long as it remains at healthy levels. And as you well know, anxiety doesn’t stop once you reach adulthood! The key is continually learning better ways to manage stress as a parent and then passing those skills on to your child.
Improved coping with anxiety is a lifelong journey. And your child will learn most not from what you say but from how you react to the myriad of life challenges that come your way.
Before the age of six, it is quite common and considered normal for children to experience some separation anxiety. However, if your child becomes regularly and significantly distressed by being away from a close caregiver or parent, this could indicate a separation anxiety disorder.
Here are some of the more common signs of separation anxiety in kids:
- Afraid to be left alone
- Nightmares about separation from parents or caregivers
- Refusing to attend school so they can stay with their caregiver
- Strong feelings of guilt and/or fear
- Stomachaches, headaches, and other bodily complaints
- Pleading not to be separated or temper tantrums
- Refusing to sleep anywhere besides at home
- Refusing to go to sleep without the caregiver present
- An ongoing and unrealistic fear that something terrible will happen to the caregiver if the child leaves
- The persistent and unrealistic fear that something terrible will befall the child if they leave the parent/caregiver.
How to Handle Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children as a Parent or Caregiver
If you suspect your child has a separation anxiety disorder, there are several primary ways you can help your child handle those struggles better. Here are a few of the best ways to do that.
Facing the Fear: Your first temptation may be to give in to your child’s pleading or tantrums when separation is imminent. This is understandable since it’s difficult as a parent to see someone you care deeply about in such a troubled and fearful state. However, giving in to your child’s wishes only reinforces those fears. Until your child can face their fears, they will never get the opportunity to overcome their difficulty.
Positive Reinforcement: Another way to help with this process is to provide a reward for handling separation well. Becoming angry or overly punitive will only make matters worse. Instead, consider a prize for the behaviors you wish to instill in your child. This could mean keeping track of points that will add up to a specific reward or you could provide smaller rewards for certain occasions. This will help your child gradually associate your separation with positive results, helping to balance out their previously negative ones.
Compromise: While there are times that separation is necessary, some compromise can help your child with adjusting to separation. Perhaps that could include occasional phone calls to the child when separated. That also could mean allowing your child to accompany you at their request when it’s possible. You want to balance showing tough love with showing that you’re sympathetic to your child’s struggles.
Explanation of Symptoms: If your child is old enough, it may help to explain what the child is going through, encouraging them that the symptoms of separation anxiety will likely improve over time as their fears are faced.
Are You Concerned About Child Separation Anxiety?
If so, finding a child counselor is a valuable consideration. This is especially the case if you’ve tried helping your child overcome similar struggles, but they’re still having a tough time.
The OC Relationship Center is here for all of your counseling needs, including family therapy, relationship counseling, marriage therapy and child/adolescent counseling.
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