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What To Do If Your Child Suffers From Separation Anxiety Disorder

Is it a phase or is this a serious problem?

Separation anxiety is a normal developmental stage which starts around 6 months of age until around age 2. As the child grows and matures and begins to feel safe and independent the anxiety a child feels decreases.

Separation anxiety is about your child feeling safe, secure and is based in fear. It may become problematic when the child’s developmental stages continue but the child remains anxious when you leave the room and can become pervasive as the child grows.

If a child continues with separation anxiety past the typical age of 2 to 3 years of age then it's classified as a disorder. Separation anxiety disorder, if not treated in childhood, can continue into adulthood.

Separation anxiety creates anxiety for the parents too as they feel helpless to help their child feel safe and secure when out in the world, or out of the room.

Signs of separation anxiety

  • Child does not want to leave parent’s side for fear that something bad may happen to the parent

  • Crying when being dropped off

  • Begging and pleading for parent to not leave or for the parent to take the child with them

  • Throwing temper tantrums when being dropped off

  • Having nightmares

  • Refusing to go to school

  • Refusing to attend sleepovers or social functions without parent

  • Complaining of headaches, stomach ache or not feeling good

  • Child feels the need to constantly check on parent for fear something bad is going to happen

  • Fear parent will never return

  • These symptoms will worsen if not treated in childhood.

What causes separation anxiety?

Causes of Separation anxiety disorder are unknown right now, but research is beginning to show that some risk factors are involved.

The risk factors are, genetic traits, parenting styles, and traumatic childhood experiences.

If one parent, both parents, or grandparents have anxiety issues then a child could suffer from anxiety issues. The connection is unclear but research continues to search for the connection.

A parent that is over involved, overly anxious, intrusive, or does not allow the child autonomy can foster separation anxiety.

Childhood traumas such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, death, divorce, fighting parents, custody battles where the child is not shielded, and the sudden removal of a parent or authority figure from the child's life create uncertainty for the child.

How to help your child through anxiety disorder

If you can find what is causing your child to feel afraid or insecure then this will help you know how and when anxiety is a problem for your child.

Here are some ways to combat separation anxiety disorder.

  • Keep your own anxiety under control. Your child may pick up and feed off of your anxiety, especially when you are leaving your child in someone else's custody. Your anxiety may inadvertently tell your child that you do not trust leaving him/her with the caregiver.

  • Avoid fighting in front of your child. Disputes happen but a child feels unsafe and fearful when adults argue and fight. If an argument does occur in front of the child both adults need to reassure the child that the child is safe and is not at fault.

  • Avoid showing your frustration about your child's anxiety in front of your child. This will make your child feel like they are not supposed to have fears and then may feel ashamed of being afraid.

  • Take your child's anxiety serious. To the child the fear is real, scary, and terrifying.

  • Be honest with your child. Avoid tell them you will be back soon. Soon to him is not the same as soon to you. If possible give a specific time and teach your child to recognize time by using a clock that can help your child tell the time such as colors or shapes like the ones here.

  • If your child is too young to learn to read a clock by shapes or colors then help them to identify the time of the day by their daily activity such as "after the afternoon snack mommy will pick you up from daycare".