Childhood Separation Anxiety: How Therapy Can Help You

Separation anxiety disorder is a condition beginning in infants as early as seven months old. At this stage, a baby can recognize who his or her parents are and understand that they will always be there even when out of sight. In childhood, separation anxiety affects a child’s behavior and coping skills. A number of strategies can be used to help a child overcome the disorder and be able to develop more independence.

Medication

Daily Medication

If psychotherapy fails, there are medications which can be helpful in some circumstances, especially when the child’s anxiety is severe. Certain medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work to maintain high serotonin levels in the brain since serotonin is one of the major message-carriers. If these messages can keep coming through, it is believed the cells made dormant by anxiety will reactivate and ease an anxious child.

Teach Your Child About Separation Anxiety

Talking to son

Having engaging and open discussions with children about their anxiety can empower them to take action. Once they have the tools and knowledge, they will be better equipped to deal with it. Allowing them to understand it is okay to have a small bit of anxiety when they are dropped off at school is as important as providing coping mechanisms. For example, anxiety can be likened to a thermostat. When the temperature is too high, it can be turned down.

Help Your Child Become An Expert On Anxiety

Sad, frightened child listening to a parent talking through the door

If a child is aware of his or her behavior, and that it is a common issue among other people, he or she can feel less alone in the struggle. By using the name, anxiety, to describe the physical and emotional feelings brought on by worry also makes learning about it easier. Experts suggest teaching children that anxiety is not dangerous, it is adaptive, and it is a part of life, but also it can become a problem if it becomes too much to handle in a healthy, positive way.

Create Your Child’s M.A.P.

Child psychologist discusses drawing a little girl

A tool to implement in an anxious child’s life is a M.A.P. (My Anxiety Plan). It consists of activities and tools to cope with issues surrounding separation anxiety. Some of the common problems dealt with include avoidance, questioning what or who the ‘bully’ is, negative thoughts, sleeping alone, returning to school, and nightmares. In this activity, using small rewards and coping cards can be helpful.

Brain Foods

Baby Vitamin Fruit Juice, Strong Child Healthy Meal, Kids Vegetables Food

Certain food will not necessarily cure separation anxiety, but a healthy, balanced diet is good for a growing child’s body and mind. Proper nutrition is integral to brain function, memory, and concentration, all of which can contribute to positive mental health. Some of these superfoods for the brain include salmon, eggs, oatmeal, berries, beans, colorful vegetables, milk, and yogurt. Peanut butter is kid-friendly and contributes to their daily vitamin E and thiamin needs.

Read Together

Young mother reading to her child in bed

If a child’s anxiety stems from attending school, meeting new people, or trying different activities, an effective place to start is at the library. Take books out on the topic causing the most stress and read together. By doing so, it is easier to talk about possible feelings that arise associated with the event and might help a child understand the feelings attached to it. This is also a chance to discover and come up with solutions to try for easing an anxious child.

Don’ts

Separation

Negative feedback will only provoke negative behavior and feelings. Parents are discouraged to allow children to stay home from school if they display signs of separation anxiety or say they do not want to go. It is good to keep a routine and not spring on new activities or events out of the blue. Experts suggest focusing on the positive, rather than negative things that could arise in a child’s fearful situations. Rewarding small victories rather than punishing poor behavior, which results from a child’s anxiety, is also encouraged.

Do’s

Child Going To School

A number of positive factors in a child’s life will help him or her cope with separation anxiety. These include parents who focus on fun activities, help children get settled at school in the morning and leave, communicate when they will return and give reminders that they always have in the past, compliment children for good behavior, and help a child describe and visualize how a superhero would tackle the problem.

Cognitive Therapy

Therapy helpful in child education

Cognitive therapy is used to change the way a child learns to think. It also helps children understand their feelings of anxiety and recognized the physical symptoms they feel. It helps them find solutions to problems. All of these factors help when children can focus on the positive, which can be achieved through relaxation techniques like deep breathing and counting. Once this is accomplished, they can learn other hands-on coping strategies, such as playing games and coloring.

Behavioral Psychotherapy

Portrait of cute little girl with thumbs up shows a class on the flower meadow, happy childhood concept, child having fun

Often considered the first method to try, behavior modification therapy is most often successful when a child’s behavior is handled in a positive, rather than negative, approach. For example, instead of receiving punishment for poor behavior, experts suggest parents reward their child for small victories. If a child refuses to go to bed, he or she can be praised for making steps to go to the bedroom and staying there for longer durations until he or she hops into bed and falls asleep.