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Separation Anxiety Torments Children and Their Parents

Aug 17, 2007
Separation anxiety can strike when you least expect it.
Five-year old Jessica seemed relatively calm about her first day in kindergarten and her parents had no reason to suspect that separation anxiety would be a problem. She smiled sweetly as her father snapped her picture while she was getting into the car in her shiny new shoes with her hair in pigtails and a pink Dora the Explorer backpack in her arms.

A few minutes later the same little girl was standing at the door to her new classroom, crying hysterically, screaming, clutching the hem of her mother's skirt and begging not to be left alone in her new surroundings.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, going to school is generally an exciting, enjoyable event for young children. But for children affected by separation anxiety, it brings intense fear or panic.

Not wanting to go to school can occur anytime but it is most common in children 5-7 and 11-14, times when children are dealing with the new challenges of elementary school and middle school.

Children with separation anxiety suffer from a paralyzing fear of leaving the safety of their parents and home. The child's panic and refusal to go to school is very difficult for parents, but these fears and behaviors can be treated successfully with patience and professional help

One of the hardest things a parent ever has to do is leave a distraught child with a caregiver or teacher. Many young children feel anxious when confronted with a new situation. Usually a parent can gently encourage them to step out of their "safe zone" in order to have new experiences.

However, children with separation anxiety will loudly and tearfully resist anything which they perceive as different. It can take a considerable amount of patience to help a child feel confident about tackling things they at first find difficult.

Separation anxiety isn't just a "kid thing".

Parents are not thrilled by the prospect of leaving either. But if you let your apprehension show, your child is almost certain to pick up on it. Besides, a dramatic farewell will just validate your child's feelings of insecurity. Try to stay calm and positive - even if he is hysterical. Talk to him evenly and assure him you will be back soon.

Children with separation anxiety may exhibit the following symptoms:

- Feel unsafe staying in a room by themselves

- Display clinging behavior

- Display excessive worry and fear about harm befalling their parents

- Shadow the mother or father around the house

- Have difficulty going to sleep

- Have nightmares

- Have exaggerated, unrealistic fears of animals, monsters, burglars

- Fear being alone in the dark

- Have severe tantrums when forced to go to school

Parents can experiment with new ways to interact with children so that the child's fears are not inadvertently reinforced. Parents should give children ample praise and positive reinforcement for "brave" behavior.

When fears persist the parent and the child should consult with a qualified mental health professional, who can work with them to develop a plan to help the child overcome these emotional hurdles.

Separation anxiety is a treatable condition and most patients eventually overcome their problems.
About the Author
Jonathan Sapling writes extensively on anxiety disorder and related mental health issues.
To read more about anxiety disorder go to his Anxiety Disorder Site
Or visit his blog about: Mental Health News
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