Reviewed by Melinda (Santa) Gladden, LCSW
Separation anxiety is normal for very young children; however, the tendency subsides around three years. However, you have to watch out if your child’s separation anxiety appears to be somewhat intense. The more serious condition is known as Separation Anxiety Disorder.
Typically, we begin to see separation anxiety disorder in the preschool years. If you are concerned that your child’s separation anxiety is severe, ask yourself:
- Is there a lot of emotion involved?
- Is the separation anxiety prolonged?
- Does it impact school activity or the remainder of your child’s daily routine?
- Did you ever notice any symptoms that appear like or include panic attacks?
If separation anxiety is beginning to take a life of its own, it is possible that your child could be dealing with a separation anxiety disorder. It does not matter if the anxiety has to do with parental attachment or another close caregiver. Separation anxiety disorder has been known to last as late as the teenage years or even through adult life!
Separation Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Your child’s doctor will look for symptoms and signs of separation anxiety, where excessive, in relation to your child's developmental age. Secondly, they are also interested in the impact that the symptoms are having upon daily functioning. These symptoms include:
- Repetitive and significant distress about the possibility of being away from home. Likewise, anticipated separation from loved ones would also be highly unacceptable.
- Persisting worries over losing a loved one, commonly a parent, to what may appear to be an irrational, low probability event or incident.
- Worrying about a bad outcome or something catastrophic in the near future. For example, patients may be terribly apprehensive about being kidnapped or losing their way, eventually causing separation from the loved ones or their home.
- Actual refusal to leave home, or even tolerate separation from the premises owing to a fear of separation.
- On the flip side, being uncertain about being home alone. Particularly when an expected loved one is also not cohabiting.
- Hesitation and uncertainty about sleepovers away from home, especially if a loved one or a parent is also not nearby.
- Patients have also reported nightmares about being separated from the individuals or the location they are attached to. Such nightmares are also repeated.
- Manifestation of physical symptoms after one is already experiencing separation anxiety. These take the shape of headaches, stomach aches, as well as certain other physical symptoms. These symptoms may be onset even when there is no separation, just anticipation building up to it.
At the grassroots level, it is important to remember that an individual suffering from separation anxiety disorder’s body is dealing with an imbalance of two chemicals in their brain: Serotonin and Norepinephrine.
Complications and Side Effects of Separation Anxiety Disorder
A diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder may be linked with panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. Disorders that cause extreme impacts upon social functioning can often be connected, whether at the school or at work? Other disorders that go alongside Separation Anxiety Disorder include:
- Disorders currently connected with anxiety (i.e., generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and even panic attacks)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Several of these disorders often accompany one another indicate that individuals with separation anxiety disorder must make extra effort to protect their mental health in general.
Preventing Separation Anxiety Disorder
Again, research falls short of identifying just how the Separation Anxiety Disorder takes roots. Accordingly, it is not easy to prevent the disorder even while being mindful of certain things or triggers.
- Professional advice would be more applicable and effective if you opt to subscribe quickly after symptoms begin exhibiting. This is because the sooner you find a diagnosis, the more effective the treatment with a number of symptoms that could actually be reduced.
- In the case of children, you just have to be mindful and observant through the developmental stages. If your child is, excessively clingy, time bound intervention can likely prevent separation anxiety without allowing it to get significantly worse and symptoms gaining roots.
- Your doctor will also come up with an organized treatment plan. This plan would be aimed at possible relapses and tackling any symptoms that may be worsening. Properly done, such plans will provide a solid layer of support when the patient is experiencing separation anxiety.
- You can stand as an example for your child for them to learn healthy coping skills. That will only happen if you will submit yourself to professional treatment, whether for anxiety, depression, or another disorder bothering you.
Coping With Separation Anxiety Disorder
If your child or a loved one has been diagnosed with separation anxiety, you must get ready to play a huge part in the overall treatment plan. The good news is, however, is that there is a lot you can do to help, such as:
- Ensure that your child regularly accesses mental health services periodically without missing any appointments.
- Providing the patient with much-needed reassurance and promises of support. At the same time, you should encourage a degree of independence that is standard for the age. This way, you are subconsciously teaching your kid to create a life path of his or her own without going overboard.
- Watching out for prospective incidents or situations that may stress your loved one. This can quickly burn down whatever progress there is, especially if it is a big stress event. The lower the stress levels during the treatment plan, the higher the positivity and results that are going to follow. You have to actively support your child for them to succeed.
- Creating a support networkfor the patient by starting a dialogue. For example, you could communicate with the school, with the Primary Health care Provider, and then any other guardians that may interact with the patient. To the extent possible, roles could be delegated so that communication takes place in an acceptable framework in the developmental years. Their teachers may also consider going the extra distance once they are aware of their special needs.
- Getting involved with the local community services and creating an external network, perhaps including parents and caregivers for children with separation anxiety. There you will get to learn from the first-hand experience, and you could apply what appeals the most to you directly.
When to Take Your Child to Get Help
Typically, it is rare for Separation Anxiety Disorder to subside on its own. Therefore, some kind of treatment becomes necessary. It is also important to note that this disorder can also intensify with time and create more havoc (in some cases, it has also led to panic disorder). If you are unsure about the symptoms and have been looking to get help, start with our free separation anxiety test. This will help you get some homework done to ask and what to expect with your healthcare provider.
NOTES: No changes needed at this time.
- Does not go against what is clinically accepted.
- Does not encourage mindsets or practices that may be harmful to the reader.
- Is factual and up-to-date.