Separation anxiety in children

Jodi Lord

Play therapist in Cape Town

Children may display their anxiety through crying

It’s natural for a child to feel scared when a parent says goodbye. Separation anxiety is, however, a normal stage of development. With understanding, patience and coping strategies, it can be relieved, and should fade naturally as your child gets older.

In some children fears about separation seem to only intensify as time passes, or to resurface out of the blue. If anxieties are persistent and excessive enough to get in the way of school or other activities, it is possible that your child has separation anxiety disorder. Unlike normal separation anxiety, this condition may require the support of a professional, such as a play therapist.

But there is also a lot that you as a parent can do to help.

1)      Prepare your child that you will be leaving them. Possibly mention some feelings that they may feel: scared, worried, sad and then comment that it is okay. Let them know that you understand and validate their emotions.

2)      Allow your child to choose and keep a small object (not expensive or valuable) that reminds them of you. I usually suggest a piece of clothing (like pyjamas) or an empty perfume bottle that mom and dad used to use.

3)      Develop a “goodbye” ritual. Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss. In therapy, I like to teach a parent and the anxious child a special handshake to do before they leave each other.

4)      Try not to give in. Reassure your child that he or she will be just fine—setting limits will help the adjustment to separation. Leave and do not feed into your child’s anxiety by hanging around and randomly re-appearing.

5)      Make sure you are on time when you collect your child. When greeting your child, go down to their eye-level, and congratulate them on being brave and showing that that they are growing up. Remind them that you love them and you thought about them all day. Give lots of hugs and kisses.

The main differences between healthy separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder are the intensity of your child’s fears, and whether these fears keep him or her from normal activities. Children with separation anxiety disorder may become agitated at just the thought of being away from mom or dad, and may complain of sickness to avoid playing with friends or attending school. When symptoms are extreme enough, these anxieties can add up to a disorder.

Look out for the symptoms and do not hesitate to contact a professional to help.


Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.