Every working mother’s or father’s heart breaks a little when they have to leave their toddler at home: the goodbyes are always tearful and tantrum-filled. Separation anxiety is perfectly normal in children, but it can be pretty upsetting for the parent.
What is, after all, separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is the distress that both children and sometimes adults feel when they think about separating from the people they’ve become attached to. It is the excessive fear or anxiety about being away from home or an attachment figure. It was previously thought to be a childhood issue. However, nowadays it is commonly acknowledged that separation anxiety is an anxiety disorder that can affect people at all stages of life.
For being clinically diagnosed as suffering from Separation Anxiety Disorder, these symptoms must have been present for at least four weeks in children and adolescents, and six months or more in adults. Moreover, these symptoms must cause impairment of school, social, occupational or personal functioning as a result of the anxiety.
Separation anxiety often develops
Mild cases of separation anxiety do not need treatment. However, if it interferes with school or other daily functions, treatment is needed.
This is the most common type of psychotherapy recommended for treatment of Separation Anxiety Disorder. Through CBT, children learn to recognize their physical responses to anxious thoughts, and the thoughts that lie behind them. They also learn to identify what triggers those anxious thoughts. Children learn various strategies to manage their anxious thoughts and to cope with the troubling emotions. Typically, CBT is a long process, and covers many sessions, but it is considered very effective to bring about lasting change.
Very often the family contributes in some way to the anxiety of the child. In family therapy, parents and siblings learn of new ways of interaction with the child and useful strategies when anxiety symptoms manifest.
With very young children who cannot express themselves very well, play therapy can help process emotions and thoughts, as well as how to cope with them.
Severe separation anxiety that has progressed to the level of a disorder may have to be treated with medication. Both antidepressants and anxiolytic medications (anxiety reducing medications) are used with success. However, due to the side effects of these medications especially in children, they are used only if absolutely necessary.
Though separation anxiety is natural, parents can adopt certain strategies to prevent it being unmanageable.
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