UNDERSTANDING SEPARATION ANXIETY in CHILDREN
We’ve learned that separation anxiety is considered a developmental phase in young children. It’s a time when they’re often clingy and afraid of people/places that aren’t familiar. However, if this occurs in a child who’s 6years+, is excessive, disrupts the normal day-to-day, and lasts longer than 4 weeks, the child may have separation anxiety disorder (SAD).
SAD is a condition where a child becomes nervous and fearful when away from home or separated from a loved one (parent/caregiver) whom the child is attached to. Some children develop physical symptoms (e.g. stomachaches, headaches, nausea) at the prospect of being separated. This fear causes so much distress that it interferes with normal activities (e.g.playing with other kids or going to school). Here’s a short discussion on “What is Separation Anxiety? Fear of Abandonment?”
For parents, especially working Dads/Moms, SAD in their children poses a huge challenge. How do we deal with this severe anxiety in kids? Here are some quick tips:
1) Create quick goodbye rituals. The longer you linger, the longer the anxiety, and the more it becomes agonizing.
2) Attention. Give your child full attention and provide affection when separating, but keep it short.
3) Be consistent. Try to do the same drop-off (separation place & time). A routine helps diminish the heartache/fear and allows your child to trust their independence.
4) Be specific. When discussing your return, provide specifics they understand. Instead of saying “4:00 in the afternoon”, say “I’ll be back after your nap time”.
5) Keep your promise. Return at the time you’ve promised. You help your child build independence and trust in you as they become confident in their ability to be without you –WHEN you stick to your word.
6) Practice being apart. You can leave your child at grandma’s/at aunt’s, schedule playdates, or allow friends to provide childcare (even for an hour). This exposes your child to temporary separation.
Give your child a chance to prepare for & experience your absence, and help them to thrive independently. Here’s a 9th graders story about “Overcoming Anxiety” and a Youth Anxiety Psychologist’s discussion on “How to raise kids who can overcome anxiety.” Other factors for SAD to occur are divorce, death of a loved-one or pet, and a major change (switching schools or moving).
If your child is having severe anxiety, our therapist at Jarvis Hypnotherapy can help you.