Archive for the ‘Separation Anxiety’ Category

PostHeaderIcon What exactly is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

When children are scared of new places or people, this is completely normal. However, if a child continues to have intense fears that something is going to happen to themselves or to their loved ones and they can not participate in normal childhood activities, this is usually an indication that there is a problem. Separation anxiety disorder affects approximately 4% of children between the ages of six and twelve years old. A child’s temperament or personality is a factor that contributes to separation anxiety and children that are in a close-knit family, are extremely shy, children that are very passive, and kids who have parents that are very insecure as parents are alll contributing factors to Separation Anxiety Disorder.

Normal separation anxiety occurs between eight months and one year old and may occur later between eighteeen months and two years. In some children, it may never be experienced. Remember, that some degree of separation anxiety is normal and is a sign that your child has formed a health attachment to you.
Separation anxiety has a variety of physical and behavioral signs and to qualify for a diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder, your child’s doctor or therapist will look for at least three or more of the following symptoms that occur to your child before the age of eighteen years. Also, the symptoms must be present for more than four weeks and interfere with your child’s social and/or academic functioning.

The symptoms are:
Worry about losing you or harm coming to you
Excessive distress when separated from you
Worry that some terrible event such as being kidnapped will come between you and your child
Reluctance to go anywhere even outside to play or be with his/her friends
Reluctance to go to sleep at night, especially alone
Repeated physical complaints, such as stomach ache or headaches
Ongoing distress about being alone at home or outside of the home, especially without you

Symptoms of separation anxiety may begin to occur as a result of a scary experience or something that your child has heard about that is scary to them. In order for a child to resolve these feelings of separation anxiety it is of utmost importance that they are able to develop a feeling of safety in the world, trust in themselves and their parents, and understand that their parents are coming back even though they are apart from them for a period of time. Treatment of separation anxiety disorder usually includes psychological intervention that includes individual and/or family counseling. Techniques in therapy usually include making the child feel safe and systematically having the child spend time away from their parents in increasing increments with incentives for time spent alone in activities.

PostHeaderIcon How to help children with separation anxiety

Separation Anxiety, which is a common disorder seen in children, is usually seen in younger children, however can affect older children.  What exactly is separation anxiety? Simply stated, separation anxiety is the fear someone has of being left alone.  Parents often see their child become panic-stricken or tearful when they drop them off at school or when they try to leave their child alone with another family member or a babysitter.  Separation anxiety usually begins in childhood and is a mental health disorder.  A child’s temperament plays a large role in whether or not a child is able to move past the normal anxiety that comes with separating from parents.    

What can parents do to help their child through this difficult transitional stage of being alone and separated from them.  First of all, separation anxiety in children is usually seen by parents when their child refuses to go to bed at night by themselves or when they refuse to attend school.  Children will often complain of a headache or a stomach ache in order to get out of attending school. 

The preferred method for treating a child’s separation anxiety is individual counseling and not pharmacological treatment.  The most common treatment method used to treat separation anxiety is behavioral modification.  Behavioral modification is a therapeutic intervention that addresses the specific behaviors associated with separation anxiety.  In this model, parents reward instead of punish a child’s attempts to be alone and the child’s fears are not punished.  For example, when a parent drops their child off at school and their child begins to whine and cry, the positive behavior of the child getting out of the car and going into school after a minute or two to calm down is rewarded.  On the other hand,  the whining and crying the child exhibited as a result of being separated from a parent is not punished.  To help a child that is suffering with separation anxiety a parent should focus on any positive attempts to be separated from them and this behavior should be praised. 

An excellent resource for parents, is the children’s book, Oscar the Pig-Mommy Goes to Work written by Megan Calhoun.  Ms. Calhoun is the founder of and has written an excellent resource book for parents to read with their young child.  Her book helps children understand that separation is a normal and healthy part of growing up.

Treatment of separation anxiety should include the assistance of a mental health professional in more severe cases and counseling focuses on the child and the family.  If psychological treatment is not effective then medication can be considered.  Remember, parents must praise a child’s attempts at separation no matter how small the attempt is.  Even if your child sits alone in the next room and not right next to you, this behavior should be praised.  Allow your child to feel success at every single step of their separation from you and their ability to separate will slowly be achieved.