by Jennifer Shakeel
I write this and laugh. I am a mom that has been there done that… and did I mention I am doing it again. I have a 15 year old, a 12 year old and a 15 month old. Still to this day I have separation anxiety with my oldest! I guess I just don’t like being away from my children… especially for extended periods of time. I miss them. Of course I am not here to talk about parental separation anxiety… though I wonder why no one does that. Here we are going to talk about separation anxiety from the child’s stand point and how you can make it easier.
Separation anxiety is when a child has anxiety from being separated from the caregiver, which is usually the mother. This is a very stressful stage for both parent and child as the parent feels guilty, and the child is scared and experiences anxiety.
From the time a child reaches eight months to the time they are about fourteen months, they get nervous and even frightened when they see new people or are in new places. They see their parents as familiar and safe. When they get separated from their parents, they feel threatened and unsafe. This is a normal stage of development and usually ends when the child is two years old.
How Do Children Get Over Separation Anxiety?
In order for a child to get over separation anxiety, they must first:
- Feel safe in their home environment
- Trust other people other than their parents
- Trust that their parents will come back
Even when the child has successfully passed this stage, it is possible for the anxiety to return during stressful situations. Some kids go through this anxiety when in unfamiliar places or situations, especially when their parents are not around. When a child is in a doctor’s office and are feeling stressed or sick, they turn to the comfort of their parents, but when their parents cannot be with them, the child experiences distress. For this reason, it is important to stay with your child as much as possible during medical visits.
What are Some Symptoms?
Some symptoms that your child may experience include:
- Distress when away from parents
- Refusal to go to school or other places because of fear of parent not returning
- Refusal to go to sleep without the primary caregiver
- Repeated physical complaints
- Fear of losing the primary caregiver or harm coming to the caregiver
There is no treatment for separation anxiety because this is normal, but parents can help their child adjust to their absence by leaving the child with a trusted caregiver. This will help the child learn to bond with someone other than the caregiver.
Are There Any Treatments?
There is no treatment for separation anxiety as this is a normal developmental stage. You can help your child adjust to new situations by leaving them with a trusted person. If a medical procedure is needed, it is best that the primary caregiver stay with the child as the presence of the caregiver can help lessen the amount of anxiety the child experiences. If the parent cannot be around, it is best to expose the child to the exact situation before the actually one. Take a trip to the doctor’s office a day or so before the appointment. When this is not an option, the child may cry, resist going, and even beg and scream.
How Long Does Separation Anxiety Last?
Young kids who have symptoms will usually improve around the age of two. If there are still some symptoms after, that is normal. If separation anxiety occurs well into adolescence, this may be a signal of an anxiety disorder. If your child has significant amounts of anxiety after age two, you should call your doctor to see what options you have to help your child.
Jennifer Shakeel is a writer and former nurse with over 12 years medical experience. As a mother of two incredible children with one on the way, I am here to share with you what I have learned about parenting and the joys and changes that take place during pregnancy. Together we can laugh and cry and rejoice in the fact that we are moms!
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