What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?
Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder are obsessed with the fear of separation. The child becomes fearful and nervous when away from home or separated from a parent or caregiver. They often have nightmares or regular physical complaints. They might show a reluctance to leave the home or go to school. Children are especially prone to separation anxiety during periods of high stress.
Separation anxiety is normal in young children from eight to fourteen months old. It is not unusual for a child to go through a “clingy” phase and to be afraid of unfamiliar people and places. When this fear begins to occur in a child over six years old or is excessive, lasting longer than four weeks, the child might have separation anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety under the age of five is very common.
“This is the age that children are beginning Kindergarten or sometimes Preschool,” says psychologist Dr. Alan Yellin, “One of the questions we ask is: Whose separation anxiety is it? Sometimes, there is as much separation anxiety on the part of the ... Read more
Anxiety is a growing issue amongst children. It is estimated that 1 in 5 children would qualify for a Separation Anxiety Disorder diagnosis.
Common Causes of Anxiety
Separation anxiety typically develops after a stressful or traumatic event in a child’s life. Common examples of these are a stay in the hospital, the loss of a pet or a love one, or significant change in environment. Over-protective parenting styles may be more likely to develop a separation anxiety disorder. Sometimes the parent and child can feed each other’s anxiety. It is common for children with separation anxiety to have family members with anxiety or other mental disorders.
Tips for Easing Separation Anxiety
“Handling separation with your toddler starts with understanding where your toddler is in their development,” says Allison LaTona, marriage and family therapist, “They are balancing this equal drive within independence – a drive toward independence, autonomy and exploration – and a drive toward relationship, connection and attachment. And when parents can embrace this back and forth need that the child is driven to go toward, the child can better integrate these two polar opposite needs. As well as parents offering validation to their child when they’re struggling with separation, “You don’t want mommy to go.” And reassurance, “Mommy always comes back.” And as parents do that consistently, the child will internalize this fact and as they mature, they will be better able to handle separations.”
“For parents who have children who have a hard time separating, as far as preschool is concerned, they crying, the grabbing, the holding on. First and foremost, you should know that is actually okay,” says preschool teacher Daniel Asres, “Many children go through it and it is age appropriate. What parents and adults don't realize is that children don't think about their entire day the way we do. Our job as parents and adults is to relay that to them. For example, "Mommy is taking you to school this morning. You are going to go and get to have fun with your friends. You are going to play games." You go through the day as briefly as possible and the child will settle in to the idea of what the day has in store for them. Then you need to say, "Mommy or daddy will be here at the end of the day to pick you up." You need to make sure that you are there and on time, so that the child can know that they can trust this process. The other part which also deals with trust is letting your child know that the adults in that environment are very trustworthy. When you show the child that the adults they can trust. They can find comfort in that environment as well.”
“What a parent can do is start to help the child develop confidence inside the home, by not picking up at the first request, by allowing the child to kind of cry and struggle and get frustrated, because that all builds the kind of mental muscle this kid needs as they leave the home more frequently and more often, which is what's going to happen in their life,” says professional parent educator, Vicki Hoefle.
Parent educator and author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Elizabeth Pantley, suggests playing the “Bye-Bye Game”. Hide behind a piece of furniture or a door and make some noise so your baby knows you’re there. This way your baby gets used to you going away and coming back again.