Separation Anxiety: When Your Child is Clingy

Anyone of any age can experience separation anxiety. Adults can become anxious when their spouses must travel out of town, sales for example. Twenty year olds can become anxious upon leaving home for college. Ten year-olds can become anxious when their parents go away for a week. And toddlers can become anxious when their parents drop them off at playgroup for the first time.

Whoever it affects, viagra separation anxiety is a painful condition. Feelings of fear, helplessness and even desperation overtake the sufferer. Adrenalin surges through the body causing stomach upset, weakness and/or palpitations. Tearful or rageful panic attacks may occur. Sleep is disturbed or impossible.

Separation Anxiety in Toddlers
Babies may or may not experience regular separation from their parents. Some parents practice attachment parenting, sleeping with their infants and carrying them on their bodies during the daytime. These babies may not experience separation until toddlerhood, when they first go off to a babysitter, playgroup or nursery school. Some babies experience regular separation from their first days of life, as parents tuck them into a crib in a room of their own each night and/or leave them with other caregivers during daytime hours.

Separation anxiety, however, seems to have little to do with experience. Some kids cry bitterly at separation the first time they experience it and consistently from then on. Others are upset the first couple of times they experience separation, but then permanently adapt. Others are fine for the first couple of years and then, seemingly out of nowhere, begin to experience intense distress upon separation. Some who never had a problem in their preschool years suddenly develop a bad case of it in grade school. Some children experience anxiety when they first go to school simply because they aren’t used to being away from home. Research shows that the average child makes a happy adjustment to school somewhere between the ages of two and a half and three and a half. This means that a particular child may be extremely anxious at age 2 simply because she is not developmentally ready for separation. This same child will be fine at age 3 and never experience separation anxiety again. So sometimes, the trick is to help the child separate at the right time for him or her. Of course, this isn’t always optional; sometimes the parents’ work schedules require early separation whether or not the child is ready. Some children will experience separation anxiety no matter how old they are when they first separate. They can be 3 or 4 or 5 and, if this is their first major separation, still experience tremendous anxiety. The tendency to experience this kind of separation anxiety is most commonly found in children who have other forms of anxiety as well. The fearful child–one who develops phobias of clowns, doctors or doggies—is frequently found among the sufferers of separation anxiety. The worried child and the obsessive child (the one who has to have things “just so” or otherwise goes ballistic) are also often found in the anxiously separated group. Ditto for the “sensitive” child.

Becoming panicky over separation is a tendency inherited in the genes. Anxious genes run in family trees and the saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is easily applied to anxious children. Almost always, the parents recognize anxiety in themselves or other close relatives.

How to Help Children with Separation Anxiety
What does a parent do when her toddler clings to her in terror on the way into the classroom? Kind teachers like to peel these children off their parents with reassurances “don’t worry, he always stops crying as soon as you leave.” However, the parent is scarred by the piteous cries of the youngster begging to go home. Even if the child does recover moments later, the last sights and sounds the parent experiences are gut and heart wrenching! Parents often leave the parking lot in tears themselves.

At the beginning of the school year, the parents can give their toddler a few days to see if he calms down and settles into the school routine. Sometimes, it just takes 5 to 10 days for the child to feel comfortable in new surroundings. Painful as it is, the parents must leave at some point- but it doesn’t have to be right away if the school permits their presence. Staying for at least twenty minutes to help the child settle in may be helpful. But eventually, the parent must say good-bye. Sneaking out is not advisable, as this can increase anxiety. The child learns that the parent can suddenly disappear and this causes even more fear. Rather the parent should say good-bye, mention where he or she is going and what he or she will be doing (“Daddy is leaving now. I’m going shopping for milk and then I’m going to be working at home and then I’m going to come back and get you for lunch.”). Then the parent must leave. This routine can be repeated daily for a couple of weeks. Most often, the child will get used to the new environment and soon stop being anxious. However, the anxious child does not respond this way. The tearfulness and terror can continue for weeks and months, never improving one iota! If the child is under three years old, it may be preferable to leave her at home with a caretaker. When she is older, she can try school again. Eventually, of course, most children will have to go to school. Home-schooling an anxious child is not a cure for anxiety. Home-schooling may be undertaken for any number of reasons. However, as a treatment for separation anxiety it is a disaster, because avoidance increases, rather than decreases, anxiety. In other words, solving the problem by having the child avoid the problem, actually causes anxiety to persist and increase. Assuming, then, that the anxious child must eventually go to school, parents need some tools to help themselves and the youngster cope.

One important tool is knowledge: parents need to know that anxiety diminishes when it is faced and conquered. Therefore, sending the child to school daily, acting firmly and calmly, is a very helpful treatment. The parents must not panic themselves! They can take the Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” in order to help themselves stay calm in the face of a flailing, desperate youngster. They can also give this same remedy to the child herself because it can often reduce anxiety and/or turn off the panic attack/tantrum. Bach Flower Therapy can also be used to help the child overcome the tendency to be anxious in the first place. In this case, a consultation with a Bach Flower Practitioner can be helpful. Health food stores normally carry Bach Flower Essences. The Remedy Mimulus is particularly helpful in reducing separation anxiety.

Sometimes older children experiencing school anxiety call home daily with “tummy aches.” Parents who come running to rescue the child are only maintaining the child’s anxiety and stress. They, too, must learn to calmly and firmly help the child face his or her anxiety (assuming that a doctor has ruled out medical causes of that tummy ache!). The parent’s calmness is contagious. The parent’s confidence that all is well and safe and good has a powerful positive impact on the anxious child. Parental anxiety, on the other hand, increases the child’s anxiety. Sometimes the parent must seek professional assistance in order to reduce his or her own anxiety in order to help the child.

When these measures are not enough to help a child overcome panic and separation anxiety, parents can consult a mental health practitioner who specializes in the treatment of children’s anxiety. Early help can prevent needless years of suffering for the whole family.

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