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How To Help A Child With Separation Anxiety

How Can I Help My Child Live With Separation Anxiety Disorder

Children’s Anxiety: 3 Ways to Help Your Anxious Child

As a parent, you play a key role in your childs treatment. Here are things you can do to help:

  • Keep all appointments with your childs healthcare provider.

  • Show your child reassurance and support. Encourage age-appropriate independence.

  • Recognize situations that may stress your child. Knowing what stresses your child and planning ahead can help you prepare your child so he or she is successful.

  • Tell others about your childs SAD. Work with your childs healthcare provider and school to develop a treatment plan. Remind teachers that your child will need extra reassurance and support in certain situations.

  • Reach out for support from local community services. Being in touch with other parents who have a child with SAD may be helpful.

Normal Anxiety Or Anxiety Disorder How To Tell The Difference

Every person, child, and adult, is going to feel anxious at some point, says Eli R. Lebowitz, PhD, director of the Program for Anxiety Disorders at the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine. Anxiety is a normal emotion that has a dual purpose. It prevents us from doing something dangerous and can motivate us as well, says , director of Alvord, Baker & Associates, a psychotherapy practice that specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents and adults with anxiety and other disorders. For example, anxiety might motivate a child to practice the piano for his recital or be the encouragement a child needs to do their homework so they can be prepared for class.

What differentiates normal from problematic anxiety is the degree to which the anxiety interferes with functioning that you would expect for a child of or developmental stage, says Alvord. Children with anxiety disorders inevitably begin to avoid situations, things, people, and places that make them anxious, says Alvord. Avoidance is the hallmark of anxiety disorders.

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.

Get more help

Practical coping suggestions for parents.

School Refusal Describes the symptoms and what parents can do about the problem.

Hotlines and support

In the U.S., call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 or the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 .

In the UK, call the Family Lives Helpline at 0808 800 2222 or Anxiety UK at 03444 775 774.

In Australia, call the Parentline at 1300 30 1300 or the SANE Help Centre at 1800 18 7263.

In Canada, call the Parent Helpline at 1-888-603-9100 or visit Anxiety Canada for links to services in different provinces.

Recommended Reading: How To Stop Anxiety Tremors

Explain What Is Happening And Return On Time

When leaving an infant with someone else, caregivers should explain that they are going away for a little while but that they will come back. As the baby gets older, they will begin to understand these explanations.

It can also be helpful to provide a timeframe. When doing this, be specific so that the child knows exactly when to expect a return. For example, a caregiver could say, I will be back after your nap to take you home.

It is important to return on time, as returning later can cause a child not to trust what the caregiver says.

Watch Yourself And Your Emotional Cues

Help Kids with Separation Anxiety at School: 8 Ways to Promote Success

Children can sense when youre anxious or concerned about something its called social referencing, Mercer says, referring to the process by which infants and toddlers, around the age of 4-5 months, pick up emotional and facial cues from their parents. So if youre worried about something, though you may not verbalize it, your child may pick up on that vibe and become anxious herself. So as anxious or sad as you feel, put on a smile and keep going!

For more tips on taming troubling transitions with your children, read the full interview with Mercer below.

Q: Is there a certain developmental age when separation anxiety often occurs in children?

A: Separation anxiety used to be called 8-months-anxiety because thats the point at which a switch is flipped in the child, and they begin to have certain attitudes toward familiar and unfamiliar people. For a lot of babies, when theyre 4-5 months old, theyre very social. They will socialize with everyone, whether they know them or not. But often around 7 months, the baby may really check someone out, especially if theyre unfamiliar to them. This is a very normal pattern of human development its just the point at which they really begin to see there is a difference between familiar people and unfamiliar people.

Q: What strategies could you give a parent whose child is not adjusting well to the transition of school?

Q: How can parents best prepare for their childs transition from toddler-hood to being in school?

Read Also: Are Anxiety And Panic Attacks The Same Thing

How To Deal With Separation Anxiety At Night

A baby between 8 and 12 months of age may also show signs of separation anxiety at night by waking up and crying out for you. To deal with nighttime separation anxiety, you can go to your infant and reassure her with calming words and your hand on her back, but skip picking her up, as this may coax her to continue, thinking her cries can equal your embrace.

A baby at this age may also be experiencing sleep regression, which can be caused by separation anxiety. Continue to stick to your nighttime routine so your baby learns what to expect at the end of each day.

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

  • What to Expect the First Year, 3rd edition, Heidi Murkoff.
  • What to Expect the Second Year, Heidi Murkoff.

Childhood Anxiety Can Worsen As Children Grow Left Untreated Anxiety Can Impact Both Physical And Emotional Health Here’s How To Help Your Child Manage Anxiety On Their Own

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Fathers bravely patrolling the perimeter of bedrooms to show a frightened child there arent any multi-legged, hairy creatures hiding under their bed is a nighttime ritual regularly performed in homes around the world. But when spider anxiety prevents you from sleeping away from home or traveling, thats a problem. Its not the spider that stops you from doing adventurous things its youand your anxietythat stops you.

Its important to know the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder though. Fear of spiders, bugs, birds, monsters, or strangers are considered common childhood fears that may cause temporary anxiety in a child. Thats a normal response. But, regardless of the trigger , normal anxiety turns toxic when it begins to occupy the childs thoughts in an all-consuming way and negatively affects the childs ability to engage in normal activities and behaviors.

Also Check: How To Help Kids With Anxiety

Use A Visual Schedule

A visual schedule can easily be understood, even by children who cant yet read or who are nonverbal.

It also provides stability uncertainty may cause major stress for kids with autism. This usually stems from not having a full understanding of how the world works.

The most important part of the visual schedule for a child with separation anxiety is that it includes COMING HOME.

This is something your child should be able to keep with them and look at throughout the day. It can serve as a tangible reminder that they will be reunited with you at the end of their school day.

You can find some great tips and free graphics for creating your own visual schedule in this article.

When Do I Need To Worry

Helping Your Kindergartener with Separation Anxiety

Although it may be difficult to hear your child cry, remember that separation anxiety does have a positive aspect: It indicates that a healthy attachment has formed between a caregiver and a child. While separation anxiety in toddlers isn’t something to worry about, do watch for signs of extreme anxiety, says Julia F. Heberle, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania.

In a small number of cases, children beyond the age of toddlerhood will develop . Dr. Heberle recommends analyzing the situation surrounding your child’s feelings. Is there parental conflict, divorce, or something wrong with the child care setting? If so, separation anxiety may be amplified. If your child shows excessive symptoms, such as vomiting, nightmares, or unrelenting worry, contact your pediatrician.

You May Like: How Do I Get Rid Of Anxiety Without Medication

What Is Separation Anxiety In Babies & When Does It Occur

It may not seem normal for your baby to scream almost every night so hard they turn purple, but don’t worry – it is. It’s actually a good sign! Let’s elaborate.

As we already said, separation anxiety is frequently associated with the realization that people and things exist even when your infant cannot see them. This is known more precisely as object permanence. As a result, when you leave the room, your infant understands that you are still present somewhere else and that you can return. In this sense, separation anxiety is a good thing since it tells us, parents, that our kid understands object permanence.

Separation anxiety begins in the infant stage – sometime between 6 and 10 months and peaks between 10 and 18 months. You may find that your baby clings to you and screams before you leave her with a babysitter and during naps and bedtime. Separation anxiety often emerges out of nowhere – your baby may be OK one day and become a clutching, screaming, scared mess the next. Many parents are understandably concerned about this!

However, as we explained, this is just a phase that will pass. In addition, it’s a sign of the healthy development of your baby. So, it’s a good thing, no matter how challenging and scary it is.

Now that you know what it is let’s see how to manage separation anxiety in babies at night!

Helping Babies And Children With Separation Anxiety

If your child is suffering from separation anxiety, its best not to avoid separation. Instead, there are many things you can do to gently encourage and help your child.

In new places

  • If youre leaving your baby or child somewhere new, like a relatives house, child care centre or preschool, spend time at the new place with your child before the separation. Your child will be less distressed if theyre left in a safe, familiar place with familiar people they trust.
  • Let your baby or child take something they love from home, like a teddy bear, pillow or blanket. These objects will help your child feel safer, and you can gradually phase them out as your child feels more settled in the new place.
  • Tell your baby or childs relative, child care centre, preschool or school about their separation anxiety. Also let them know about what youre doing to help your child. This way, other people can give your child consistent support.

When youre leaving your baby or child

At home

Read about the stepladder approach, a gentle behaviour technique that can be used to help children who suffer from separation anxiety.

Also Check: Can You Get Rid Of Anxiety

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.

Create A Soothing Bedtime Routine

Helping Kids with Separation Anxiety

Establish a relaxing nighttime ritual, such as a bath followed by a favorite storybook or songs. This will help your toddler adjust to the fact that bedtime is approaching. Give them a lovey to hold and turn on some soothing sounds, like soft white noise or a recording of ocean waves. It will make the quiet in their room less obvious when you leave, says Pantley.

Also Check: Can Anxiety Cause Physical Pain

What Routine Helps Minimise Stress Of Separation

Preparing children for whats coming next is an effective way to ease separation anxiety and is useful in many situations. Talk to the children about whats going to happen, from walking in the doors to hanging their bag and then giving mum or dad a kiss, for example.

If youre worried about your childs behaviour, its important to talk to your GP about any concerns you may have. They may be able to refer you to a counsellor who can help you with your concerns.

What Is Separation Anxiety In Children

Children with separation anxiety might cry or cling to their parents or carers when being separated from them.

Fear of strangers is similar to separation anxiety. Its when children get upset around people they dont know.

These anxieties are nothing to be concerned about. Children are starting to move around more at this stage, so these anxieties make sense from a survival point of view. That is, if children could crawl or walk away from their carers but werent afraid of separation or strangers, theyd get lost more easily.

Recommended Reading: How To Stop Thinking About Something That Gives You Anxiety

Facts About Separation Anxiety

Infants: When a baby starts to have an understanding of object permanence, separation anxiety can develop. They will start to understand when mummy is not there. This can make them unsettled. A common age for this to occur is at the 9 month stage. Try to keep your coming and going short and in a routine.

Toddlers: It is no surprise that at toddlerhood, our little ones are more aware of the aspect of separation. When at 15-18 months, they may start displaying more challenges and anxiety. When tired, hungry or unwell, separation anxiety can get harder. Which is most of the time when they are toddlers!

Preschoolers: At around the 3 year mark, our little ones understand more-so than ever the aspect of anxiety when linked to separation. The easiest ways to deal with this is keeping good-byes short and sweet. And also try your hardest not to return after a childs plea.

We caught up with Jen from on how she helps her son, Teddy with Separation Anxiety with going back to school.

Talk Openly About Your Childs Worries

Separation Anxiety in Children: Stages, Pediatric Nursing NCLEX Review

Sometimes we just want to avoid talking about all these worries kids have, or bad experiences that may have led to them.

We dont want to bring them up and make kids feel worse.

But the opposite is actually true the more your child is able to openly talk about their fears, the harder talking about them actually is.

Getting comfortable talking about your fears can help you over come them. Dont shy away from discussing their separation anxiety with them.

If you can, share a story with your child about when you also felt the way they did. This helps them know they arent alone.

Also Check: What Drugs Help With Anxiety

What You Need To Know About Supporting Your Little One

Spending time away from your little one can be painful for both of you. But sometimes, saying goodbye can create feelings of worry and upset in your child. Here are some things to look out for and ways you can help your young one manage such difficult feelings and ultimately feel more safe and secure.

Why Is My 7 Year Old Having Separation Anxiety

Children with separation anxiety often have family members with anxiety or other mental disorders, which suggests that a risk of getting the disorder may be inherited. Insecure attachment to parents or caregivers. Other anxiety disorders include panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Read Also: When To Get Help For Depression And Anxiety

They Will Forgive You

It might feel as though your 12-month-old is shooting you daggers and making mental notes for future therapy appointments as you set her down in her classroom and say, Have a good day! It may haunt you as you try to settle into your workday and make you wonder if she will trust you again. But take a deep breath. Young children quickly settle in the care of a loving adult and often begin to play within minutes of even the roughest of drop-offs.

In my years of education, Ive yet to find a diary entry ascribing betrayal to their parents or detailing damaging internal anguish. At pick-up time, youll likely find your child runs to you grinning and excited after a full day of good things.

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