When separation anxiety rears its head
Maybe the first sign of separation anxiety you noted was the time you deposited your child in day care. Or maybe it was when you left him in the church nursery. Whatever the moment, you felt uneasy as your child showed fear, maybe anger, tears and sadness when you departed.
You could understand that. It takes a little getting used to, you said. Socialization, following directions of others and getting used to new surroundings are all vital parts of maturing. You clearly wanted your child to have every opportunity to reach his or her potential.
Joan and her mother have been planning and saving, visualizing and discussing a summer camp in the Rocky Mountains. Joan’s friends have been campers for several summers, but this will be the first session for Joan and the longest time she has ever been away from home.
As the weeks drew close for her departure, Joan’s mood and temperament were increasingly hostile toward her mother. They argued about the most insignificant things – what she was going to pack first, what she should include, what she should omit, lists of addresses of people she should write. What should have been fun was almost unpleasant. Joan’s mother was bewildered. What was the problem?
Tom was leaving for college. He had been accepted by the university that was his first choice and had received enough scholarship and financial aid to supplement the fun he and his parents had accumulated over the years. Everyone in the family thought he ought to be jumping for joy.
Instead, Tom was irritable and moody. He was reluctant to participate in family activities, preferring to join friends or isolate himself in his room with tapes and videos.
Tom’s family members were confused. How could he change so much since high school graduation only a few months ago? They wanted to be with him as much as possible.
Family therapists say a display of anger is a kind of buffer zone in separations. It is never easy to say goodbye, but it is easier to leave when you can distance yourself from, even be a little made at, the people you are leaving.
Joan and Tom were both experiencing unsure, unfamiliar things. They wanted to be responsible for their own lives, but they feared pulling away from the parents upon whom they were dependent for love and security.
Signs of tension are part of separation anxiety. Parents who recognize this can assist in making the departure easier by treating it lightly. Assure your children that you are going to be there waiting for their return, but that you are pleased they have reached the point in their development that they are ready to step out and away.
Think back to your own childhood and early adulthood. Reflect on the feelings you had about leaving home and gaining independence. Then treasure the moments of your return, to the familiar places where you felt once again the ties of family affection.
Copyright c 1995 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.