If you think that you’re the only parent whose child throws a big tantrum whenever you leave the room or the house, think again. Separation Anxiety is more common than you realize. It affects about 7 percent of children in the United States. This anxiety disorder, which affects children and even young adolescents, is characterized by recurrent excessive anxiety when a child is separated or about to be separated from his/her parent, caretaker, or any other close family member. It usually occurs for a period of at least four weeks.
Understandably, it’s more common in younger children who depend on their parents for almost everything. During the early stage of childhood, from about eight to 14 months, babies and toddlers cling to their parents with dear life. When separated, they throw tantrums or cry loudly. Usually, this separation anxiety goes away in time. It becomes separation anxiety disorder if the child reaches the age of six and still hasn’t overcome this problem.
In order to deal with this more effectively, it’s important that you’re aware of the symptoms of this disorder. These include unrealistic worries that something bad will happen to the parent or caregiver, refusal to go to school unless accompanied by the parent or caregiver, difficulty sleeping without the parent or caregiver, fear of being alone, nightmares about separation, and bedwetting. There are also physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach pains, which may arise from the distress that the child is feeling over the separation.
Causes and Coping
It would also help if a parent can point out the possible cause of a child’s separation anxiety. A certain stress or trauma in a child’s life can contribute to the onset of this condition. Examples include death of a loved one or pet, relocation, and stay in the hospital. Knowing the direct cause of the anxiety will enable you to help your child cope with it more easily. It’s also known that being overprotective to your child increases the risk of this condition, so it’s best to allow your child to have supervised freedom.
In addition to that, you must also help your child familiarize himself/herself with the new environment before you leave him/her there. For example, if it’s your child’s first time in school, make sure you bring your child there several times before the actual start of classes. This way, he/she won’t feel distressed the moment you tell him/her that you’re going to leave him/her there to learn. It would also help a lot if you introduce your child to the teacher prior to the opening of classes.
Never scold, mock, tease, criticize, or threaten your child about this. Always be patient and understanding, but not to the point that you’re being excessively sympathetic. Reassure your child that he/she is in a safe place and that nothing would go wrong.
Many of the mild cases of separation anxiety do not require medical treatment. You only need to consult a doctor or child psychologist if the anxiety hinders your child from living a normal life or if it prevents him/her from engaging in normal activities such as going to school. In this case, treatment options that are usually advised by a doctor include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and antidepressant medications. Medications are only used for severe cases.