Separation anxiety is a part of the normal developmental process in children. It’s perfectly fine for a child under the age of 6 to be anxious and fearful about separating from their parent or caregiver, to whom they are emotionally attached. However, if the symptoms intensify beyond what’s healthy or if the condition persists beyond the age of 6 then it’s possible that the child may have separation anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety disorder can prevent children from performing activities that are normal for their age like developing and maintaining friendships with their peers. School absenteeism increases and academic performance can take a nose dive in children with separation anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety disorder is the most prevalent anxiety disorder in children under the age of 12, and it affects both boys and girls equally. The symptoms of separation anxiety disorder are similar to those of separation anxiety, so sometimes it can be mistaken for healthy behavior. Symptoms include:
- Unwarranted fear that something bad will happen to the parents in the child’s absence.
- Unwarranted fear that separation from the parent may be permanent.
- An unreasonable fear of school, which leads to a refusal to attend school.
- Refusal to go to sleep without the caregiver being nearby or to sleep away from home because of a fear of being alone or because of nightmares of being separated from their caregiver.
- Fear of being alone.
- Nightmares about being separated.
- Bed wetting.
- Complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches, on school days.
- Regular episodes of temper tantrums or pleading.
Separation anxiety disorder has many root causes and usually develops after a traumatic experience. The death of a loved one or a pet, moving to a new school, moving to a new house, or a stay in the hospital may trigger the onset of separation anxiety disorder. However, sometimes the child might just be mirroring the anxiety of their parents. Children who have overprotective parents are more prone to developing the disorder. There are simple things you can do to reduce your child’s symptoms. Learn about separation anxiety disorder so that you can sympathize with the way your child is feeling. Listen to and respect your child’s feeling. Talk to your child about the issue; this has a therapeutic effect on your child. And if your child experiences less severe symptoms when separating from one parent then have that parent perform the drop offs.