Occasional feelings of anxiety are a normal part of life, even for children. When these feelings prevent a child from carrying out everyday activities like going to school or spending time with friends, he or she may be displaying symptoms of separation anxiety disorder.
Parents and caretakers can help ease separation anxiety disorder symptoms by setting an example for children, setting boundaries and being consistent from day-to-day. In some cases, a child may benefit from professional treatment, though parents can still do things to help ease a child’s symptoms.
Causes of Separation Anxiety Disorder
Understanding the cause behind a child’s separation anxiety disorder can help parents and caretakers better empathize with what a child experiences. In general, a psychological disorder exists as a faulty belief system that’s expressed as unhealthy coping behaviors. So in the case of separation anxiety disorder, a child’s belief that something bad will happen to a parent drives the anxiety he or she feels and the resulting behaviors.
Separation anxiety disorder can develop out-of-the-blue or become increasingly worse over time, according to a Harvard Health Publications report. A recent death in the family, such as the death of a grandparent or a friend can trigger symptoms of separation anxiety. Ongoing family or marital problems can cause symptoms of separation anxiety to persist over time. In some situations, a child may think he or she is to blame for ongoing conflicts in the home and worry about losing a parent as punishment.
Communication & Modeling
By creating a sense of safety, parents can help ease separation anxiety disorder in children. Encouraging children to talk about their feelings can have a healing effect; especially for kids who already feel isolated because of what they’re going through. It also helps to talk a child through the actual act of coming and going and reminding him or her that nothing bad happened the last time the parent left.
Modeling self-confidence and problem solving can give a child a sense of safety and normalcy. Parents can practice “separating” with their children for brief periods as a way to ease a child through the separation process. Creating “goodbye” routines or rituals can also go a long way towards reassuring children that everything’s alright and nothing bad will happen to them. Parents can also set up a system that rewards a child for making steps towards overcoming his or her fears.
Stability & Consistency
Maintaining as much stability as possible can go a long way towards helping to ease a child’s separation anxiety disorder. When possible, try to keep a child’s surroundings familiar, even when he or she is away from home. When away from home or in new environments, a cherished item, such as a teddy bear or a book bag can help to ease a child’s feelings of anxiety.
In terms of consistency, once a parent or caregiver sets boundaries when leaving the child, it’s important to be consistent each and every time a separation occurs. Otherwise, a lack of consistency can actually increase a child’s feelings of anxiety, which leads to more disruptive behavior displays.
Harvard Health Publications