It’s time for you to leave for work, and your 2-year-old clings to your leg like a bull terrier with a particularly tasty bone. You’re not sure how much longer you can take the tears every time you step out the door. How can you cope if your child displays separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can arise from multiple factors and cause a host of symptoms. If you suspect your child of displaying the signs, taking rapid intervention measures can help prevent them from developing a more long-lasting anxiety disorder.
Here’s what to look for and how to help ease their fears.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety can stem from multiple causes. Sometimes, a traumatic event, such as the death of a family member, inspires similar fears that a parent might leave and never return. Divorce, similarly, can raise the spectre of abandonment.
Additionally, some children have imbalances in the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that spur anxiety. In this fashion, your child’s separation fears provide a valuable clue that they might be more prone to developing anxiety disorders down the road. Finally, family behaviours, like making a fuss about departures, can make parting seem more traumatic than it is.
Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety
How will you know if your child has separation anxiety? Look for the following symptoms.
- Excessive clinginess – Children with separation anxiety may follow you everywhere – even into the restroom.
- Tantrums and refusal – In severe cases, your child may refuse to leave the house to go to school or daycare out of fear.
- Repeated nightmares – If your little one often arises from dreams in which a parent abandoned them, this is a critical sign.
- Gastrointestinal issues – Kids with separation anxiety often suffer stomachaches and other physical ailments when they leave their parents. Do have these complaints evaluated if they’re the only sign – some children do develop abdominal migraines and other health conditions that require medication.
- Breathing problems and panic attacks – Finally, your child may hyperventilate out of anxiety or have a panic attack from fear. Please don’t dismiss these symptoms as overacting, as doing so invalidates your kids’ emotions and may make their terror increase.
Tips For Dealing With Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can cause considerable distress for both you and your child. Before you rip out your hair, try the following techniques.
Do a Trial Run (or Three)
If your child knows what to expect, they have less fear. It’s one reason why many schools implemented half-day kindergarten instead of a full day. Before shipping them off to daycare for the entire morning, let them stay there for only a few minutes while you run an errand. It might help to give them a favourite stuffed toy to take along as a comfort buddy.
Listen up folks who co-parent, if your child has separation anxiety, please show up to pick them up at the required time. If your kid is looking forward to a weekend with you, and you bail, it could spur understandable fears of abandonment. Always show when you say you will, and if a genuine emergency arises, provide a sincere apology and explanation.
Develop a Ritual
People develop rituals to cope with significant life changes like births and deaths. Research reveals that things like baby showers and funerals do reduce anxiety and increase confidence – why wouldn’t they work for daily separations, too? Make a small ritual every time you leave to instill belief in your return. It might only consist of, “I love you very much, and I’ll see you at X o’clock,” but it can ease their mind considerably.
Make Parting No Big Deal
Some parents make a federal case out of leaving their kids, even for a few hours. If you do this, you could unwittingly inspire fear. Treat partings as no big deal from an early age. If your children witness you and your partner exchange loving goodbyes without a ton of fanfare, they’ll start to recognise temporary partings as the routine events they are.
Minimize Scary Stimuli
Unless you have a very unusual child, scary movies can terrify them. Even stories such as the “Goosebumps” series, which you may find innocuous, can loom large in tiny imaginations. If your child shows any signs of anxiety, try to minimize exposure to frightening movies and books. Yes, this step might mean turning off the evening news at dinnertime, but chances are you’ll feel psychologically healthier without hearing the woes of the world, anyway.
Seek Professional Help
Finally, if your child’s separation anxiety is severe, it can significantly impact their lives. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social phobia are two of the most common childhood psychiatric disturbances and carry a substantial risk for depression and impaired quality of life.
Start by talking to your child’s primary care doctor. They can prescribe medications that may help, as well as refer you to a qualified therapist.
Ease Separation Anxiety in Your Family With These Tips
Separation anxiety causes considerable angst for children and parents alike. Help your child to assuage their fears with these tips.