Separation anxiety in children
What is it?
It’s hard coping with a clinging, weeping child who doesn’t want you to leave them, but be reassured that separation anxiety is a normal stage of infant and toddler development and most young children have separation anxiety for a time, but most outgrow it around the age three to four.
How does it show?
An anxious child may behave in any of these ways:
■ Not wanting the parent to leave them and getting upset
■ School refusal, not wanting to go in
■ Refusing to be away from home because of fear of separation
■ Not wanting to be home alone without a parent in the house
■ Recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home
■ Constant, excessive worry about losing a parent to an illness or a disaster
■ Constant worry that something bad will happen to separate them from parents
■ Refusing to go on a sleepover without a parent nearby
■ Frequent complaints of headaches, stomach aches or other symptoms when separation from a parent is anticipated
■ Separation anxiety disorder may be associated with panic attacks.
What causes it?
Separation anxiety can be triggered by a stressful incident that results in separation from a loved one. Genetics may also be a factor in developing separation anxiety.
What’s the treatment?
A child needs to be reassured that parents always come back by proving that to them. Start with short absences, “I’m just popping out to the shops, I’ll be back in half an hour”. And be sure you are. Then gradually increase the time you are absent up to several hours. Make sure your child has a comfort toy(s).
More severe separation anxiety disorder is usually treated with psychotherapy, sometimes with medication.