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Separation Anxiety in Children

When a young child feels worried or anxious when having to say goodbye to mum or dad, it can be a distressing time for both the child and parents. It is also considered a natural stage of development up to the age of about 6 years and can be eased with some helpful strategies.

What is Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)?

Separation Anxiety becomes a disorder when the anxiety experienced by the child becomes so intense that it interferes with their school attendance, academic performance, social activities and home environment. Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Distress when the child is separated from the home or their parent/s (or important attachment figure);
  • Worry that they may lose their parent or that their parent may be harmed in some way;
  • Worry that an unexpected event will lead to being separated from their parent, e.g. getting lost;
  • Refusing to attend school;
  • Fear of being alone without their parent;
  • Refusing to sleep without their parent;
  • Nightmares involving being separated from their parent;
  • Ongoing physical complaints such as headache or stomach ache;
  • Clinging to their parent constantly;

If your child experiences some of these symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help.

What strategies work?

There are many strategies that can help alleviate your child’s symptoms of Separation Anxiety. Firstly, it is helpful to understand what may have contributed to your child’s symptoms including:

  • Changes to their environment which trigger stress (e.g. change of teacher or school; change of house etc.);
  • Changes to their routine at home (e.g. suddenly a parent has to work away for long periods of time);
  • Over-protective parenting (e.g. without realising, parents can sometimes project their own anxieties onto their child);

When seeking professional help treatment will focus on a Gradual Exposure Therapy approach to separation. As a Clinical Psychologist I will assist the parent and child with this process. This will be accompanied by demonstrating strategies specifically for the child to assist with Anxiety Management, such as:

  • Deep Breathing;
  • Mindfulness;
  • Grounding (to assist the child in not getting caught up in the anxiety provoking thoughts);
  • Relaxation and Visualisation;

Helpful tools specifically for parents include:

  • Establishing a consistent routine for your child;
  • Creating a goodbye ritual for use when separation occurs;
  • Learning to make separation ‘short and sweet’ rather than long and drawn out or sneaking away while the child is unaware;
  • Using Positive Reinforcement
  • Increasing positive praise;
  • Learning how to stay calm during the separation;
  • Listening to how your child is feeling, rather than telling them not to worry about it;

If you are ready to book your first session with Leia then hit her booking link at the top of the page to find some appointments that suit you. If you need more information send Leia an enquiry via our contact form.

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