With the school year coming up just around the corner, we are often confronted by new emotions and behaviors in our children. Sometimes these can reveal themselves to us in the form of separation anxiety.
What are the Signs?
When we think of children, we usually imagine care-free personalities that can turn any situation into a fun time. But that’s not the case for all children, especially when they suffer from separation anxiety. Now, all children experience phases where they feel anxious about things or hesitant to try something new. Separation anxiety is a very normal phase in development, but children affected by actual anxiety disorders have a much stronger reaction and need more attention given to the issue. It is a much more serious matter that must be addressed.
If the symptoms of separation anxiety do not go away after an extended period, your child is likely suffering from an anxiety disorder. Often times, normal separation anxiety behaviors leave around elementary school age, but if it continues to persist, or comes back later, you should take another look at the situation.
What makes it a disorder?
If we were to list the symptoms of separation anxiety vs the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder, the list would be almost identical. The biggest difference or tell-tale sign between the two is how intensely the child reacts to the separation.
They will also go out of their way to avoid things that result in separation. Children with separation anxiety disorder will almost always choose to spend time with their parents instead of playing at a friend’s house. Their fear is so great that they start to avoid activities that will divide the two of you at all costs.
What are some of the symptoms?
Overwhelming and often, irrational fear is a big symptom of the disorder. Your child might actually believe that something bad is going to happen to someone even though it is highly unlikely.
Sometimes insomnia plays a role in the disorder. Children with such high levels of anxiety might suffer from nightmares about losing their loved ones or they might be afraid to sleep because they have no idea what might happen during the night.
Does your child always seem to be sick when they are about to be separated from you? This is a very common symptom to the disorder. Children might have such high levels of stress that they actually feel sick when they sense that they will be divided from their parents or caregiver.
Do you find yourself with a second shadow? Often times, even when you are in the same space as your child, if they are struggling with separation anxiety disorder, they will try to be nearby no matter what. If you notice your child follows you from room to room, you might want to consider if they are showing any other signs that could point to the disorder.
What is the cause?
As we mentioned, separation anxiety is a normal part of growing up where fears and insecurities all need to be worked through over time. When we look at the disorder, however; we notice that it is usually rooted in a fundamental lack of feeling safe.
This feeling may have come about after a particular event in their life, or a big change that they are working through. Changes can have a big impact on our child’s mental health and it is often something we overlook. Changes like moving to a new home, attending a different school, or even switching their child care program can be a huge deal in their eyes. Of course other, more emotional changes like divorce are also something to consider.
If your child has experienced a loss to some degree, they also may be more prone to separation anxiety disorder. If someone close to them has died, like a family member or even a pet, it can have a huge impact on their mental and emotional state.
We also must look at ourselves as a potential source of stress. Do we have a lot of stress and anxiety that our child could be picking up on? Are we overprotective or do we give reasons for our child to fear things that they shouldn’t? If we learn how to relax and de-stress ourselves, it could have a positive impact on our child’s separation anxiety.
How do you cope?
Since there is often a fine line between normal separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder, it is important to try to relieve some of the symptoms on your own. The best thing you can do is learn as much about the disorder as possible. This way you know exactly what to look for and what to expect when it comes to finding treatment. There are a lot of great resources out there!
When anyone we love is experiencing stress or pain, our instinct is to remove what is causing the pain. We might be tempted to give into the child’s demands and try to be with them as much as possible, but this isn’t going to help the situation. Establish routines with your child and let them know when you will and will not be around.
Letting your child express their fears and emotions is also vital to moving out of the disorder. If we have hectic and busy schedules, we can be tempted to just dismiss our child’s fears when we think they sound outlandish. The process of communication and talking through their feelings can actually help them to get over the disorder over time.
Of course, if there seems to be no signs of improvement after a period of time, the next best approach is to seek professional help. In some cases of separation anxiety disorder, the cause is a result of the child experiencing trauma that the caregiver might not even know about. These are very serious situations that need to be worked through with a professional in the trauma space.
Finding a psychiatrist or therapist that specializes in or commonly works with children is very important as they will be able to provide valuable insights to your unique situations. Need help finding one? Mindful Therapy Group can help, just click this link!
Separation anxiety disorder might feel like a long and strenuous process, but there are ways to work through it and your child will experience relief from their symptoms in time!