Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder: Part I
It is not unusual for a child to display displeasure when parting from caregivers, which usually include the child’s parents.
During this normal phase of development, the child often displays expressions of anxiety which may include clinging, tantrums, and fearfulness of strangers and new places. Separation anxiety usually first occurs between 7 months and 1 year and may happen intermittently until the child is 3 to 4 years old.
Normal separation anxiety can be reduced by using some of the following methods:
* If possible, ask the sitter or caregiver who is unfamiliar with the child to come to take care of the child in the child’s home. Also, letting the child take a favorite toy or object to an unfamiliar place may help reduce anxiety.
* When leaving the child, make it simple. Blow a kiss or say something like “see you later, gator” and then make a prompt exit.
* When using a sitter or caregiver’s services, try to maintain consistency by having the same person each time.
* During the beginning of the child’s relationship with the caregiver, have the caregiver stay for short periods and then increase the time until the child becomes familiar with this person.
If separation anxiety occurs in a child older than age 6 and lasts more than four weeks, the child may have Separation Anxiety Disorder, which exceeds normal developmental progress. Family routines, parents’ work schedules and siblings’ activities all may be negatively affected by the excessive anxiety and demands of the child with SAD.
The severe distress and impairment in functioning may be indicated by some of the following signs:
* Frequent complaints related to physical functioning, such as headaches or stomach aches when the child fears or experiences separation.
* Terrified of being alone. The child becomes very fearful and when separated may express a very strong and sometimes disruptive desire to return to the parent.
* The child displays extreme fear or refusal to attend school because of worries about separation from the caregiver.
* Sleep disturbance and frightening dreams related to separation sometimes are displayed by children with SAD. Also, the child may express a strong resistance to falling asleep when not in close proximity to the parent, including the parent’s bed.
* The child may show unwillingness to be involved with other children in activities such as play or birthday parties.
I will have more next week about Separation Anxiety Disorder and its treatment.
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright ©2012