Many of us have heard the phrase “separation anxiety” used loosely to describe a response by a child who misses their parents. Many children age 8-14 months old often go through a phase of being fearful of strangers and new places.
When this happens, it is considered to be completely normal. At this age everything is a new sight to behold. Imagine being brand new into the world and being dragged into all of the hustle and bustle in a busy Supermarket. Anyone would feel a bit hesitant about the new experience.
However, if the child is over 6 years of age they may have Separation Anxiety Disorder. Especially if this behavior lasts for more than 4 weeks.
What is Separation Anxiety Disorder Really?
Separation Anxiety Disorder is when a child becomes fearful and nervous when they are away from their home. It also occurs when the child is scared to be away from loved one such as a parent or caregiver.
Sometimes there are very real symptoms involved. The symptoms could be in the form of headaches or stomach aches when even the thought of being separated arises. This problem is increasingly more serious when the separation anxiety begins to interfere with the child’s day. It can disrupt school or the ability to play with other children.
Children will often find themselves worried that if they leave their parent/caregiver that something bad will happen. Often the anxiety begins with thoughts like: What if Grandma doesn’t pick me up from school? What if I get lost? What if I get kidnapped? These thoughts can quickly cause the child to feel extremely upset and uneasy.
Separation Anxiety In Children – What Children Are Affected?
This disorder can effect at least 4% of children through any given school year. Anxiety itself often peaks in certain developmental points in a child’s life such as when they begin Kindergarten or when they begin going to Middle school or High school.
This condition can often lead children to have missed opportunities. Things such as not wanting to go on field trips because they are too worried about missing their loved one. Often times the child will have poor attendance due to feeling ill from anxiety. There are many ways this disorder can have an effect on children. Being able to identify this disorder and discern it from normal clinginess is key to treating it properly.
How Can Separation Anxiety In Children Be Treated?
Children may need to have some form of therapy regarding their disorder. Be sure to listen to the child and respect the child’s feelings. This is of key importance. Listening to the child and accepting what he or she has to say may have more of a healing effect than you’d think.
Try to be as empathetic as possible with the child. Remind them that there have been many times in which you have been separated in the past and that everything was just fine. Explain to your child that this time will be no different. Do your best to show your child how you are able to be calm in the face of separation. In turn the child may do the same.
If your child at some point becomes comfortable enough to start participating in activities PRAISE THEM! Reward them for being involved and not being too scared to try something new. This is a huge stepping stone to becoming more independent.
Encouraging a child to be independent is sometimes difficult on the parent’s part. A surprising amount of parents tend to become overbearing and overprotective of their child. This excessive amount of sheltering of the child sometimes will hinder their desire to become independent.
It is up to us as parents to let go at times (even though it seems extremely hard to do so). This will allow our children to get out of their comfort zone and begin to gain new experiences. Often times parents do not see that they are sheltering their child too much.
I myself have a tendency to want to protect my child from even the simplest of situations. It is easy to understand why a parent would be a bit nervous and perhaps overly protective. Especially if their child is just starting school or have a new friend who they would like to visit.
Be a part of the solution, not the problem.
Changing a routine is a hard thing to do. I personally am not a fan of change and I find myself not wanting to start something new or going out of my own comfort zone. Consider what you has a parent have done to contribute to your child’s anxiety. Perhaps there are things you could do differently.
While this may not always be the case, it is a possibility for some. Simply evaluate your own personal situation. Encourage your child to try new things and do your best not to pull them back from it. Test the waters, if you are not very comfortable with this step then start small.
Allow them to spend a slightly longer time than usual playing at the park with other children, let them join the extra curricular activities they like, encourage them to follow their dreams. When they ask to do something that you aren’t sure about, give it some extra thought before you tell them no. Give in to change in your routine, your child may stand to benefit from it.
Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Also, kids need reassurance from time to time when they are feeling upset. When you find yourself wondering why a child is behaving a certain way, put yourself in their shoes. Then, imagine how you would like to be treated in that situation.
Next, try to understand that separation anxiety in children is very serious. Show compassion when handling a child who is experiencing these types of feelings.
Take serious action when needed.
Finally, keep an open mind going forward and give your child the encouragement they need. Talk to your child about their fears and be understanding. Hear them out! If the problem persists and becomes debilitating for your child for an extended period of time be sure to contact a medical professional.
– Sincere Mommy
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Sources for article information.
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