Does your child constantly cling to your side, refusing to go anywhere where they can’t see you? Do they refuse to sleep without you? Are school dropoffs a daily nightmare? Has your child expressed a fear of losing you that appears excessive and disproportionate to any danger in your life? Your child may have separation anxiety. With effective intervention, the children with Separation Anxiety can learn coping skills to overcome fear and anxiety of separation.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is the excessive fear of being separated from a specific person, even for a short period of time. Usually the underlying worry is that something bad might happen to you or to the person if you are apart. There is a constant worry about the other person when separated, or a constant need to be in touch with the other person e.g. texting, phone calls, to find out where they are. Separation anxiety is most commonly seen between a child and a parent, and often becomes obvious when starting at kindergarten or school. Having some degree of separation anxiety is normal in children up to the age of 3-4 years, but becomes an issue if it continues beyond this developmentally appropriate age. It can also occur in adults, especially in parents who are excessively anxious when their child is not with them. Anxiety symptoms vary, but can include physical symptoms such as nightmares, diarrheoa, headaches, difficulty breathing, racing heart, and sometimes, panic attacks.

How does separation anxiety Impact ones life?

Separation anxiety is the most common disorder in children, with a prevalence of approx 4% in the US. Individuals with separation anxiety spend all their time worrying and thinking about the other person when they are not with them, therefore making it very difficult to engage in normal life activities. Children may start acting out at school or not pay attention during classes. They may also avoid other children, preferring to isolate themselves. Similarly, adults may socially isolate themselves or struggle with concentrating at work due to worry.

What causes separation anxiety?

The cause of separation anxiety is not completely clear, however it is known that there is a genetic component, as it is heritable. There are also environmental triggers for separation anxiety – most commonly experiencing a loss of a loved one at a young age, or having experienced a major life event such as a parental divorce, illness of a loved one, or negative early experiences at school. There is some evidence that overprotectiveness from parents also may contribute to separation anxiety. Adults are more likely to experience symptoms if they already had symptoms as a child.

Can separation anxiety be cured?

Separation anxiety can be treated using medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) , or both. CBT addresses the underlying thoughts and worries related to separation and challenges unhelpful beliefs about it, while developing skills of managing the feeling of anxiety. CBT has been adapted for children, but it is important for the parent to be involved in therapy in order to deliver the best responses to their child when separation anxiety arises. Over time, individuals can return to having a normal amount of concern in their relationships with others, so it no longer affects their daily life.

At Psynaptica, our clinical psychologists have extensive experience working with both the children and their parents to help the child build effective coping skills to overcome the fear and anxiety of separation.

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