Key Points About Separation Anxiety Disorder In Children
SAD is a type of mental health problem. A child with SAD worries a lot about being apart from family members or other close people.
The cause of SAD is both biological and environmental.
Symptoms of SAD are more severe than the normal separation anxiety that nearly every child has to some degree between the ages of 18 months and 3 years of age.
A child must have symptoms that last at least 4 weeks to be considered SAD.
A mental health evaluation is needed to diagnose SAD.
Treatment includes therapy and medicines.
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.
- Withdrawal from friends, family, or peers.
- Preoccupation with intense fear or guilt.
- Constant complaints of physical sickness.
- Refusing to go to school for weeks.
- Excessive fear of leaving the house.
If your efforts to reduce these symptoms dont work, it may be the time to find a mental health specialist. Remember, these may also be symptoms of a trauma that your child has experienced. If this is the case, it is important to see a child trauma specialist.
What Can Be Done To Retrain The Dog To Reduce The Dependence And Following
The most important aspect of retraining is to teach your dog to be independent and relaxed in your presence. Only when your dog will stay in his bed or relaxation area, rather than constantly following you around, will you be ready to begin mock or graduated planned departures.
“… teach the dog to be independent and relaxed in your presence.”
Attention-getting behaviors must not pay off. Any attempts at attention must be ignored. On the other hand, lying quietly away from you should be rewarded. Teach your dog that it is the quiet behavior that will receive attention, and not following you around, or demanding attention. Teach your dog to relax in his quiet area and to accept lengthy periods of inattention when you are home. You may have to begin with shorter sessions of inattention and gradually shape longer sessions. Training can progress much quicker if your dog learns the down stay and mat exercises on command . Be sure to schedule attention, interaction and play sessions and develop a routine while you are at home, and follow these with gradually longer sessions of inattention to try and approximate your times of departure. Your dog should get used to this routine so that you can depart while he is calm.
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Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety In Adults
If you want to know if you are dealing with separation anxiety, you should look for certain symptoms. Here are some of the more common symptoms:
- A persistent dread of being separated from home, partner, or children
- Constant thoughts about how long it will be until you see your loved ones again
- Nervousness when youre close to saying goodbye
- Intrusive thoughts about what would happen if something happened to your loved ones while they were away
- Inability to find relief after saying goodbye
- The constant worry that something is wrong with the people left at home
What Is Separation Anxiety
is the fear of being separated from loved ones or people who we perceive to be a source of safety and connection, says Jesse Hanson, PhD, founder of the private practice Hanson Healing and advisor at Rehab.com.
Its worth noting that its normal for anyone to feel some loneliness and uneasiness about being away from loved ones, but when it feels out of control or causes a lot of distress, its a sign that it requires attention, says David Klemanski, PsyD, MPH, a psychologist at Yale Medicine.
This article explores the characteristics and causes of separation anxiety, its impact on relationships, and strategies to help you deal with it.
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What To Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
Treatment for Moderate to Severe Separation AnxietyModerate or severe cases of separation anxiety require a more complex desensitization and counterconditioning program. In these cases, its crucial to gradually accustom a dog to being alone by starting with many short separations that do not produce anxiety and then gradually increasing the duration of the separations over many weeks of daily sessions.
The following steps briefly describe a desensitization and counterconditioning program. Please keep in mind that this is a short, general explanation.
Step One: Predeparture CuesAs mentioned above, some dogs begin to feel anxious while their guardians get ready to leave. For example, a dog might start to pace, pant and whine when he notices his guardian applying makeup, putting on shoes and a coat, and then picking up a bag or car keys. Guardians of dogs who become upset during predeparture rituals are unable to leaveeven for just few secondswithout triggering their dogs extreme anxiety. Your dog may see telltale cues that youre leaving and get so anxious about being left alone that he cant control himself and forgets that youll come back.
Medications Might HelpAlways consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before giving your dog any type of medication for a behavior problem.
Why Does It Affect Some Dogs More Than Others
There are a lot of factors that play into whether or not a dog develops separation anxiety. Remember, every dog is different!
As we know, dogs that come from shelters tend to be more prone to struggling with separation anxiety than those come from a breeder, for example.
A dogâs breed might also have a role to play in this condition. Dogs were bred to be close companions for us, and some breeds tend to be clingier than others.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety Disorder In A Child
The first symptoms of SAD often appear around the third or fourth grade. They may start after a break from school, such as during holidays or summer, or after a long-term sickness. Each child may have different symptoms. But the most common signs of SAD are:
Refusing to sleep alone
Too much worry about safety of self
Too much worry about or when sleeping away from home
Being very clingy, even when at home
Panic or temper tantrums at times of separation from parents or caregivers
The symptoms of SAD may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How Is Separation Anxiety Diagnosed
Diagnosis for separation anxiety disorder is contingent upon determining whether the child is simply in a normal stage of development, or if the child meets criteria for a clinical diagnosis. Additionally, it is important to rule out any medical conditions that may be correlated to the childs symptoms, before referring to a mental health professional for further diagnostic assessment. Separation anxiety may occur with other mental health problems.
Once referred to a mental health professional, the child and parent may be taken through a psychological evaluation, assessing for symptoms that meet criteria for clinical diagnosis. In addition, there may be assessments given to measure levels of distress experienced by the child.
The American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic Manual for Mental Disorders , describes separation anxiety disorder as a developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached. This is evidenced by at least 3 of the following:
Additionally, to meet criteria for diagnosis, the fear, anxiety, or avoidance must be persistent and last at least four weeks in children and adolescence, and typically six months or more in adults. The disturbance must also cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, academic, or occupational settings. Finally, the disturbance must not be better explained by another mental disorder or medical condition.
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When More Support Is Needed
If your child has significant issues with separation anxiety especially by school-age talk to your childs pediatrician. They will be able to give you additional coping strategies that may help your child. If needed, the pediatrician can also direct you to appropriate therapists or psychological resources in your community.
Katie K. Lockwood, MD, MEd, is an Attending Physician at CHOP Primary Care, South Philadelphia. Billie S. Schwartz, PhD, is an Attending Psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP.
Signs And Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Now that weâve talked about why some dogs get separation anxiety, letâs talk about what the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety are.
Of course, you might be wondering how exactly to tell if your dog is showing some of these behaviors. After all, youâre not in the houseâthatâs why itâs called separation anxiety, isnât it?
The easiest way to know is to set up a camera and filming your dog while youâre away. This way, youâll be able to see exactly what heâs doing while heâs by himself.
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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.
Childhood Separation Anxiety Statistics & Resources
There are various statistics, organizations, books, and websites to give insight and information to help parents and caregivers support anxious children. Regardless of your circumstances and experience with separation anxiety, remember that you are not alone.
Here are a few statistics on separation anxiety in children:
- The prevalence rate of Separation Anxiety is 4% in children and 1.6% in adolescents.8
- In 2016, about 4.4 million children in the United States of America were experiencing some type of anxiety problem.9
- Approximately 50% of people who are suffering from anxiety may also be impacted by depressive disorder.10
- According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnoses. However, only 36.9% of people suffering from symptoms receive treatment.10
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What Is The Difference Between Separation Anxiety In Children And Adults
In some children, separation anxiety continues beyond age 2. Separation anxiety disorder is most commonly found in younger children. It can affect older children and adults too.
One of the main differences between separation anxiety disorder in children and adults is the type of loved one involved. Children are usually anxious when separated from their parents or other trusted caregivers.
Adults experience anxiety when separated from their children. They also can feel separation anxiety in relationships, such as with a spouse or significant other.
Getting Stressed When Youre About To Leave
If your dog has separation anxiety, heâs probably learned to pick up on the cues that tell him youâre about to leave. This might be picking up your bag, grabbing your keys, or even just standing by the door.
Once your dog notices these cues, he might start showing anxious behaviors. This can include shaking, drooling, panting, or whining while youâre getting ready to go. He might also follow you very closely and acting clingy.
For more information on clingy dogs, check out my previous article about why your dog is so clingy.
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Difference Between Signs Of Anxiety And Boredom
One of the most common mistakes is to assume that any unwanted behavior that happens in your absence is a sign of dog separation anxiety. Before you take steps like getting a dog anxiety medication or starting a homeopathic treatment, make sure your pooch isnt simply mischievous. After all, an untrained puppy peeing all over the place is not the same as when, out of the blue, your adult dog poops in house after being outside!
The two most common types of behavior that get confused with symptoms of separation anxiety are:
- Dog chewing furniture, shoes, etc.
- Dog pooping in house when alone
Although these are the signs of anxiety in dogs, theyre not always the best indicators of separation anxiety. If your dog isnt housetrained, or you leave them alone for long periods of time, theyre not anxiety pooping. They just couldnt or didnt know how to hold it in.
The same goes for chewing. Lack of exercise and entertainment can lead to boredom, which will make your pooch become destructive. Your new leather shoes might not have been a victim of a panic attack, but rather a way to pass the time.
If you simply cant tell if your dogs unwanted behavior stems from fear of being alone or from a lack of stimulation, install a pet camera in your home. This way youll know for certain what makes your pet go nuts when youre not at home!
What Does Separation Anxiety Disorder In Adults Look Like
There are many behaviors that could indicate someone is struggling with separation anxiety. Some of the side effects may differ, but an individual will also be struggling with overwhelming fear or worry. Below are additional symptoms:
- Difficulty sleeping when the loved one is absent
- Difficulty concentrating when the loved one is absent
- Emotional dependence
- Fear of natural disaster, car accidents and other unpredictable, dangerous events
- Fearing for the safety of a loved one
- Fear of a loved one getting lost
- Wanting to accompany the loved one everywhere
- Having no independent social life
- Nightmares with a theme of separation
- Compulsively checking locations electronically when the loved one is absent
- Somatic complaints when the loved one is absent .
In order for separation anxiety to be diagnosed, these symptoms must be present for at least six months.
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Why Does Separation Anxiety Disorder Occur
It is normal for young children to sometimes feel worried or upset when faced with routine separations from their parents or other important caregivers, and for older children and adolescents to experience mild anxiety when away from their families such as on school trips or when leaving home for the first time to attend college, university, or a job. Although less common, some adults also may have mild anxiety or fear when a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/parent goes away for a period of time such as on a vacation or business trip. This response is part of the fight-flight-freeze system designed to protect us from threat and danger, and in small doses is useful. However, we expect that as these situations unfold, continue, and repeat, that the individual gets used to these separations. As a result, s/he discovers there is no danger, and becomes less and less anxious and learns to cope successfully. Yet, for some adults their response to actual or anticipated separations becomes far more extreme than would be expected, and continues each and every time a separation happens. In essence, they fail to adapt and appear unable to cope. For these adults, it is possible that they may have separation anxiety disorder.
Repeating Nightmares About Separation
One of the symptoms of separation anxiety in adults is repeating nightmares about your departure. In these nightmares, you have to leave your loved ones and cant get back to them. The dreams are often intense and filled with emotion. If you experience this symptom, it might be a sign that your separation anxiety in adults is getting worse.
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Signs Of Separation Anxiety Disorder In Children
Children exhibit symptoms of through behavioral changes like clinginess, school absences, temper tantrums, crying, or changes in speech.3 They may also experience physical symptoms similar to adults with anxiety, including heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and irritability. Family members and school personnel are often the first to notice these signs of separation anxiety in children.
The signs of separation anxiety are subjective and can be difficult to observe. Therefore, it is important for parents, caregivers, and personnel in school settings to pay close attention to signs that may be abnormal behavior in children. Also, it is important to note that the signs of separation anxiety in children may look similar to other disorders in children.
Here are signs a child may display if theyre experiencing separation anxiety:
- Avoiding a situation, place, or thing
- Refusal to leave the home
- Fear of being alone at night
- Fear of harm to loved ones
Excessive Barking Howling Or Whining
As soon as youre out the door, your pooch starts barking relentlessly. The only thing that might make them pause is if they focus their energy on chewing your furniture. Other dog stress symptoms are howling or whining, which usually starts when the dog realizes youre going away and doesnt stop until you’re back home.
Although it might break your heart to hear your furball crying when you leave them behind, your neighbors might not share your empathy, which is why distress vocalization is one of the most frustrating dog anxiety symptoms.
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