SEPARATION ANXIETY in CHILDREN
Separation anxiety is generally not a disorder, but a normal part of a child’s development -typically occurring from 8-12 months old and dies out by age of 2. Adults can have it, too. As children reach preschool/school age, the likelihood of separation anxiety decreases, although there’ll be time when they just want to be with you.
Some children show symptoms of separation anxiety during their elementary and teen years. This condition is called SAD –separation anxiety disorder which 4% of children have. SAD can be a predictor of general mood/mental health issues as one-third of those who have it will be diagnosed with mental illness in adulthood.
Separation anxiety disorder is when,
· your child has more serious anxiety than other children their age
· the anxiety disrupts your child’s supposedly normal life, and therefore yours
· the anxiety had gone on for at least 4 weeks
Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder (SAD)
Symptoms usually manifest when a child is separated from you (parents/caregivers). This fear of being separated can also result to anxiety-related behaviors wherein the most common ones include:
· clinging to you
· refusing to do things that needs separation
· extreme/severe crying
· physical illness (i.e. headache or vomiting)
· refusing to go to school
· poor school performance
· violent/emotional temper tantrums
· failure to interact with other kids in a healthy manner
· refusing to sleep alone
· worrying that you OR he/she might get hurt or have an accident
How is SAD diagnosed?
A child that experiences 3 or more of the above symptoms may be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. You may be required to get additional tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Your doctor might also watch your interaction with your child which can show your parenting style and its impact on how your child handles anxiety.
Risk factors for SAD
Separation anxiety disorder is highly likely to occur in kids with:
family history of anxiety/depression
low socioeconomic status
problems interacting with children their own age
a lack of good/suitable parental interaction
SAD is also highly likely to occur after major & stressful events, like:
moving to a new home
death in the family (or someone close)
Treatment for SAD
There are two approaches used to treat separation anxiety disorder -therapy and medication, which help a child handle anxiety positively.
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the most effective therapy as children are taught coping skills for anxiety. Common routines taught are relaxation and deep breathing.
Another approach to treating SAD is parent-child interaction therapy which has three main phases:
o CDI/child-directed interaction. This focuses on improving the quality of parent-and-child relationship, which involves attention, warmth, and praise –all building up your child’s feeling of safety.
o BDI/bravery-directed interaction. This aims to educate you about why your child feels anxious. The therapist develops a bravery ladder which shows the triggers for anxious feelings and sets up rewards for positive reactions.
o PDI/parent-directed interaction. This aims to teach you to clearly communicate with your child and results in better management of poor behavior.
For more treatment options, talk to a therapist at Jarvis Hypnotherapy. We can give you personalized advice on what program is best suited to your child.
The school is another crucial factor to a successful treatment. Your child needs a safe place to retreat to when they’re feeling anxious, plus there should be a way for them to communicate with you during school hours –if necessary. Your child’s teacher should also play a part in encouraging interaction with the classmates. If you have a concern about your child’s classroom environment, you should be able to talk openly with the teacher, guidance counselor, or principal.
Although there are no specific medications for SAD, antidepressants are sometimes used in older children –IF treatments prove ineffective.
If your child, or someone you know, is struggling with separation anxiety disorder, you can introduce them to Jarvis Hypnotherapy where our mental health experts can absolutely help.