Separation Anxiety

Children develop attachments with adults and tend to experience insecurity and anxiety when those adults leave. Such feelings are quite natural and this separation anxiety as it is called is observed among many children. Such anxiety tends to fade away as the children grow up and learn to be secure in relationships. However if the separation anxiety exceeds after a certain age or adversely affects the normal activities then it may be called separation anxiety disorder and may require professional help.

Separation anxiety is experienced by children when they are separated from adults who are their primary caregivers. Such emotions tend to manifest in crying spells along with distress particularly when the children are kept away from their home or parents. However separation anxiety disorder refers to excess and age inappropriate fear displayed in response to being away from parents.

Children experiencing separation anxiety disorder tend to experience fear of being lost to the family. They also experience intense fear of something bad happening to their family members if the family members are separated from them. In this disorder school going children tend to experience fear that is disproportionate to the actual situation or problem. Such a disorder can adversely affect the normal activities of the child.

This disorder affects around 4 percent of children belonging to the age group of 6 to 12 and lower proportion of adolescents. Children suffering from this disorder tend to be unwilling to stay away from family and so there is a danger of these children becoming isolated.

Those suffering from separation anxiety disorder may resist attending school and face difficulties in making friends and developing friendships. Such problems may adversely affect the academic progress of children and these children may develop school phobias. The uncertainty and fear that the children experience may adversely affect their ability of developing friendships as well as romantic relationships.

Separation anxiety disorder may be caused by some traumatic event that is experienced by the child and such an event may include an event experienced or heard about by the child. A separation like service in military, significant change like starting school, new nanny or birth of sibling and an illness may also contribute to this disorder.

Separation anxiety disorder may be caused by chemical imbalances that involve norepinephrine as well as serotonin chemicals. A genetic link may also contribute to the anxiety disorders and those children having parents suffering from anxiety disorders may develop the same. The physical symptoms of this condition include stomach aches or headaches, not allowing or wanting the parents to go out of sight, making requests to sleep with the parents, nightmares of parents leaving, and refusal to attend school.

Separation anxiety disorder may also be characterized by excessive panic on anticipating separation and worrying about safety of family members. Research reflects the breaks in attachment with the baby in early days because of change of nannies, return to work or illness of mother may adversely affect the relationships. This disorder can be diagnosed if the symptoms are experienced for more than four weeks among children who are older than 5. Separation anxiety disorder can cause detachment, problems in developing relationships and other related disorders as well. Treatment of this disorder can be done through cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy as well as play therapy.

In cognitive behavioral therapy the therapist can guide the child to challenge thoughts that are negative and to develop positive thoughts or practice alternative behaviors. In family therapy parents are taught how they can handle the illness of the child and also learn effective parenting skills. In play therapy toys, games, puppets and art materials are used to allow the children to express their feelings.

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