When To Seek Professional Help
Your own patience and know-how can go a long way toward helping your child with separation anxiety disorder. But some kids with separation anxiety disorder may need professional intervention. To decide if you need to seek help for your child, look for red flags, or extreme symptoms that go beyond milder warning signs. These include:
- Age-inappropriate clinginess or tantrums.
Hotlines and support
In Canada, call the Parent Helpline at 1-888-603-9100 or visit Anxiety Canada for links to services in different provinces.
Seek Out A Friend In Advance
Most grown-ups aren’t thrilled with the idea of being left in a roomful of people they don’t know. If possible, put some friendly faces in the crowd by scheduling play dates with some of your child’s new classmates before the first day of school. If your child arrives at preschool and sees someone they recognize, they may be more likely to settle down and relax.
How To Help Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety
Whats Inside this Article: An overview of separation anxiety disorder and the official diagnostic criteria in the DSM V. Plus, helpful resources to help ALL children who struggle with separating from a caregiver, regardless of diagnosis.
Feeling a bit anxious when separating from caregivers is a normal part of childhood development and generally nothing to worry about.
Most kids are overcoming this worry by the time they enter kindergarten. By then, theyre separating from their parents regularly and learning that its safe and their parents will soon return.
Unfortunately for some kids, these anxious feelings just continue to intensify. Were going to talk about how to help these children overcome those fears.
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Practice Leaving During The Day
Practice makes perfect, so if youre struggling with separation anxiety at bedtime, practice leaving during the day to get your child used to it. If your child already goes to daycare, theyve had plenty of practice, but this is especially valuable for stay at home parents.
If youre always with your child, you can give them some practice being away from you with a babysitter, a grandparent, or your spouse. Help them get more comfortable being away from you.
You can start practicing this as early as you want to prepare them for the separation anxiety phase.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when leaving during the day:
- Much like at night, you want to keep the goodbye calm and brief. Give your child a warning ahead of time that youll be leaving soon. Dont act anxious or nervous about it. It will only add to your childs anxiety. Instead, give them a hug, say goodbye, and make sure they see you leave.
- Build a goodbye routine. Just like a bedtime routine, a goodbye routine will give them some consistency in the event and make them feel more comfortable. Its something familiar they can hang onto after you leave.
- Have an activity ready. If you coordinate with the sitter to have a fun activity ready for right after you leave, it can help redirect your childs attention to something less stressful. They are more likely to quickly forget youre not there and the time until you return will pass much more quickly.
Say Goodbye And Mean It
Before you leave, let your child know who will be picking them up and when you will see them again. If the child cries, give a good hug and kiss, tell them when youll see them, and leave them with the teacher.
Dont linger. The lingering suggests that you might not trust the situation and may make them more upset, Miller says.
At the end of the day, whether your child cried or not, praise their bravery and remind them that youll always return.
And take heart: crying and clinging is a sign that your child is attached to you, which is “critical for your child’s healthy development and future academic success,” Miller says. “Allowing them to practice trusting in someone elses care because youve approved it for your child is yet another step in their growth and development.”
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What Is An Anxiety Disorder
Essentially, its any worry thats out of control. But adults, including specialists, teachers and doctors, often misread childrens anxiety as a learning disorder, depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder . A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in October 2010 identified anxiety as the most common adolescent mental disorder, with more than 30 percent of the 10,000 adolescents surveyed meeting diagnostic criteria. Children with anxiety can appear oppositional or irritable, because they are so distracted by worries. They can be explosive, moody or tearful.
Talk About It But Not Too Much
Talk about whats new this year. Will teachers be wearing masks? Will there be extra hand-washing or a new lunch routine? And talk about what will be the same maybe some familiar play equipment or materials.
Klein warns not to talk about school too far in advance with little kids, who don’t understand time. The younger they are, the slower you should go to reintroduce school,” she says.
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Make A Coping Skills Toolbox
A Coping Skills Toolbox is a kit that you create to help your child calm down when they are upset, anxious or worried. In order to get the most benefit from this, you should create this kit before an issue occurs. When your child experiences anxiety, then they can pick out an item from their Coping Skills Toolbox. This is one of my favorite ways to help kids learn to calm their anxiety.
Here are some other fantastic ideas for what to put in a coping skills toolbox/calm down kit from And Next Comes L
How Can I Help A Child With Anxiety
Theres normal anxiety and then there are anxiety disorders. If you child has occasional anxiety that doesnt disrupt their life, you can help them by acknowledging how they feel, helping them take control of their thoughts and behaviors. If the child has a real anxiety disorder, its important they see a child psychologist or other health care professional with expertise in dealing with anxiety disorders. Whether the anxiety is mild or more extreme, experts agree that its important that parents do not accommodate the childs disorder. Be supportive, acknowledge what the child is feeling, talk to the child about the anxiety but dont become an enabler. Changing your behavior to placate the child is what experts call “accommodation.” It may keep the peace now but in the long run, it will make things worse.
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Etiology And Mechanisms Of Sad
Although there are no definitive answers regarding the cause of SAD, there are some hypotheses. The Anxiety and Mood Disorders Program at Yale has been at the forefront in publishing scientific studies that suggest the neuropeptide oxytocin may be impaired in children with SAD and other anxiety disorders. Lead author Eli R. Lebowitz, PhD, associate director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Program, reports that oxytocin is implicated in anxiety regulation and in modulating close interpersonal and attachment behavior, underscoring its potential for informing the interpersonal aspects of youth anxiety disordersleading to the hypothesis that oxytocinergic functioning plays a role in youth anxiety and its disorders and the resulting family accommodation.5,6
Changes in the amygdala may also play a role in SAD. Significant disruption in caregiving is associated with childhood separation anxiety symptoms as well as altered functional development of the amygdala, which is a neurobiological correlate of anxious behavior.7 One study found that a history of institutional care was associated with reduced differential amygdala responses in children to social-affective cues of trustworthiness.7 Individual differences in the degree of amygdala differential responding to these cues predicted the severity of separation anxiety symptoms over the course of a 2-year period.7
Be On The Lookout For The Physical Signs Of Anxiety
The worried feelings that come with anxiety can seem hidden to everyone but the child trapped in the turbulence. That’s why it’s especially important for grown-ups to pay close attention to a child’s behavior and to look for the telltale signs of anxiety in children.
Anna, of Brampton, England, remembers when her 7-year-old son started having trouble at school.
“He was just coming home and saying his stomach hurt. He was very sick,” Anna says. When she followed up with him to try to get to the root of his stomachache, she says, “he did tell me he was worried about school, and he told me specifically it was a teacher that he was worried about.”
A stomachache, headache or vomiting can all signal anxious feelings, especially as a child gets closer to the source of the anxiety.
“You’ll see that they’ll have a rapid heartbeat. They’ll get clammy, you know, because their heart is racing,” says Rosemarie Truglio, the head of curriculum and content at Sesame Workshop. “They’ll become tearful. That’s another sign. … Anxiety is about what’s going to be happening in the future. So there’s a lot of spinning in their head, which they’re not able to articulate.”
Rachel, of Belgrade, Mont., says her 6-year-old son really doesn’t want to swim or go to their local splash park.
We heard this from so many parents: My child is terrified to do something that I know won’t hurt them, that they might actually enjoy. What do I do?
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What Causes Separation Anxiety In Babies
Babies begin to understand this when they are 612 months old. However, because they do not have an understanding of time, they do not know when their caregiver will come back. This causes them to become afraid and agitated.
When children become more independent during toddlerhood, they may develop a greater awareness of separation from their caregiver. This may result in them going through another phase of separation anxiety.
In many cases, separation anxiety will fade naturally as a child gets older. However, certain factors can trigger or exacerbate it, such as:
- the arrival of a new sibling
- a new or unfamiliar childcare setting
- a new caregiver
The best way to approach separation anxiety is to address the anxiety and fear the infant feels. This can help them feel more comfortable with separation over time.
What Causes Anxiety Disorders
Several things play a role in causing the overactive “fight or flight” that happens with anxiety disorders. They include:
Genetics. A child who has a family member with an anxiety disorder is more likely to have one too. Kids may inherit genes that make them prone to anxiety.
Brain chemistry. Genes help direct the way brain chemicals work. If specific brain chemicals are in short supply, or not working well, it can cause anxiety.
Life situations. Things that happen in a child’s life can be stressful and difficult to cope with. Loss, serious illness, death of a loved one, violence, or abuse can lead some kids to become anxious.
Learned behaviors. Growing up in a family where others are fearful or anxious also can “teach” a child to be afraid too.
What Is Separation Anxiety
Its natural for your young child to feel anxious when you say goodbye. In early childhood, crying, tantrums, or clinginessall the hallmarks of separation anxietyare healthy reactions to separation and a normal stage of development. It can begin before a childs first birthday and may reoccur until the age of four. While the intensity and timing of separation anxiety can vary tremendously from child to child, its important to remember that a little worry over leaving mom or dad is normal, even when your child is older. With understanding and the right coping strategies, your childs fears can be relievedand should fade completely as they get older.
However, some children experience separation anxiety that doesnt go away, even with a parents best efforts. These kids experience a continuation or reoccurrence of intense separation anxiety during their elementary school years or beyond. If separation anxiety is excessive enough to interfere with normal activities like school and friendships, and lasts for months rather than days, it may be a sign of a larger problem: .
What Are The Signs Of Separation Anxiety
Babies with separation anxiety fear that a parent will leave and not return. The fear may get worse when a stranger is present. Typical responses of babies with this normal phase of development may include:
Crying when you leave the room
Clinging or crying, especially in new situations
Awakening and crying at night after previously sleeping through the night
Refusal to go to sleep without a parent nearby
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Why Separation Anxiety Happens
If your baby used to be calm when you left the room and they were happy to be held by people they didn’t know, it may not seem to make sense when they start crying whenever you’re not there or strangers are close.
But separation anxiety is a sign your baby now realises how dependent they are on the people who care for them. That can include their grandparents or professionals closely involved with their care, as well as their parents.
As they get more aware of their surroundings, your baby’s strong relationship with this small group means they don’t feel so safe without you. Their growing awareness of the world around them can also make them feel unsafe or upset in new situations or with new people, even if you are there.
Keep Goodbyes Brief And Upbeat
Drawn-out goodbyes can prolong distress, so keep goodbyes brief and positive. It may help to create a goodbye ritual, such as a special handshake, or providing the child with a special blanket or toy to comfort them.
It is OK to comfort a child who is experiencing separation anxiety, but do not linger. Give them full attention and affection, and then leave.
Providing comfort and reassurance during the day may help ease nighttime separations. However, often a little extra support is necessary at bedtime to help children feel secure before they fall asleep.
It may help to:
- stick to a bedtime routine
- ensure they have a security toy or blanket with them
- stay calm and relaxed while saying goodnight, as children can detect their caregivers moods
- avoid sneaking out after they fall asleep this can cause distress if they wake up again
- comfort the child if they wake up by rubbing or patting them until they calm down, then leave
- when possible, avoid taking them out of the bed and rocking them to sleep
age of 3 years and begins to fade as the child develops a greater understanding that their caregiver will return. However, some children can continue to experience separation anxiety for longer periods.
When separation anxiety persists into later childhood, it is known as childhood separation anxiety disorder . This is a mental health condition that causes a level of separation anxiety that is unusual for the childs stage of development.