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Children with Separation Anxiety


Separation anxiety is relatively common. Separation anxiety can show up in various situations, such as:

Leaving kids at school or daycare.

Kids getting on the school bus.

Saying goodbye at the babysitter.Transition between households after divorce.

Going to bed upstairs when Mom & Dad are downstairs

The root cause of such anxiety is difficult to know with absolute certainty. However, we do know that a number of different circumstances can contribute to kids experiencing separation anxiety.

1. Increased general anxiety tends to contribute to separation anxiety.

If a child is going through a stressful time, which may be due to a change in schools, friendships, homes, parental functioning, or any other events that increases their overall anxiety; then this would be a time when they would be more vulnerable to separation anxiety.

2. The more overprotected…the more vulnerable.

When parents overprotect children, they have not been allowed to experience upsets without being rescued from those upsets. This is one of the hallmark features of the overprotectived child, and thus parents are unintentionally nurturing a weaker sense of self-esteem and self-confidence.

3. Parents who over-react to their children's anxiety promote separation anxiety.

Some parents are highly sensitized to every emotional reaction of their child. When their child is upset, they tend to impute a level of emotional distress consistent with what an adult would feel. This is simply not accurate, and it leads to parents over-reacting to the slightest upsets on the part of their children.

4. Significant disruptions or fear around relationships with parents.

During times of separation and divorce, there may be legal or logistical reasons that produce a significant disruption in the relationship between a child and a parent. When children experience a sense of deep loss or fear of a permanent loss with a parent, they may begin to behave in compensating ways.

5. When parents let adult fear become their children's fear.

When parents are afraid that their children "can't handle it," they often communicate this to their kids. They don't do so directly…they do so with their own emotional reactions and the tone in their voice. They do it with the questions they ask. They do it with the way in which they keep endlessly probing and asking about a child's experiences.

What parents can do about separation anxiety?

1) Don't put your kids on medication.

I have seen this fail time and time again. This is not a situation where kids need medication. It is not the source of the problem.

It's not that they are making up their emotions. It's simply that they have come to believe that they can't handle something…that they really can handle. Medication will only become a crutch, and their anxiety will ultimately intensify as the child's environment is still working to reinforce their anxiety.

2) Get your child out of your emotions.

Make sure that your fears and worries have not become your child's fears and worries. If you're concerned about them going to school, or how they're going to handle situations after a divorce, you have to deal with this fear and anxiety on your own.

Don't bring these feelings into conversations with your children, because you'll communicate that they have a reason to be afraid and worry.

3) Start believing…"They can handle it!"

This is a plain and simple fact. Your child can handle going to school. Your child can handle being left at daycare. Your child can handle going to Dad's house…. or going back to Mom's house.

Your kids can handle it. Keep that in your mind at all times. You will be amazed at how your actions and beliefs shape the underlying beliefs of your children. The more that you give them the confidence that they can handle something that they, in fact, must handle…. the more quickly their anxiety will disappear.

4) Make transitions short and sweet.

The most significant mistake you can make would be to have a lengthy goodbye. The second biggest mistake, which is similar, is to ask lots of preparatory questions and offer a huge explanation (over and over again) before a transition occurs.

Both of these are certain to lead to failure, as they communicate your sense of uncertainty about whether or not your child can handle this.

5) Don't engage the (repeated) upsets.

Every daycare and elementary teacher knows this. When your child walks into the classroom and starts to sob, they ask you to leave and walk away with a quick goodbye. Within five minutes, all is well and life goes on.

That teacher has learned that they can't keep giving lots of energy to the upset. If they do, the upset gets worse. Instead, they redirect your child to the other kids, and walk away.

These simple guidelines will help you stay on track. Follow them, and within a couple weeks…life will be much better. Most likely, the separation anxiety will be a thing of the past. If it persists, it may be necessary to seek professional guidance. You can learn more about this issue, and almost any parenting topic at www.TerrificParenting.com.

Submitted by:

Dr. Randy Cale, Ph.D.

Dr. Randy L. Cale is a licensed psychologist who offers parental coaching through his website at http://www.TerrificParenting.com. Visit Terrific Parenting for more parenting tips and information.





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