When a child is very young, such as between 8 and 14 months, it is common for them to have some level of separation anxiety.  At that age, they are completely dependent on their parents, so if they are being left with a grandparent of babysitter, they will feel a high level of stress.  Kids of that age cannot understand the idea that their parents will only be out for a little while, then will return.  To them, everything is forever.

As kids get older they start to realize that nothing is forever.  They adapt to the situation and may even enjoy the time they get to spend with the grandparent or babysitter.

Sometimes, as kids get a little older, they sometimes go through a “clingy” phase.  They do not want to be left at school or they don’t want their parent to leave them with the babysitter.  This happens to everyone and it is usually a one-time or a short-term thing, then in a few days, things are back to normal.

If a child get to be older than 6 years old, and these bouts of being clingy last longer than 4 weeks, then there may be a deeper issue.  The child may have separation anxiety disorder.  This is a condition where a child becomes overly fearful and nervous when being away from home or separated from a parent. Separation Anxiety Disorder will also interfere with otherwise common activities like going to school or having a playdate with a friend.  Sometimes this can present itself in physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder include

  • Unrealistic and lasting worry that sometime bad will happen to the parent or even themselves if they are separated from the parent.
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Refusal to go to sleep without the parent
  • Nightmares about being left alone
  • Bed-wetting
  • Temper tantrums or excessive pleading

Separation anxiety can be caused by a few different things, including a stressful or even traumatic event in the life of the child.  The event may be the death of a loved one or a pet.  The child may not understand death, but they see their loved one or pet get sick and all of a sudden, they are gone, and they do not return.  It could be an overnight stay in a hospital or even a sudden change in their environment, like moving homes or changing schools or teachers.  There are also cases where they separation anxiety might not be from anything happening in the child’s life, but rather when the child has a parent who has an anxiety disorder and the parent is exhibiting some form of separation anxiety from being separated from the child and the child takes on this behavior themselves.

Separation Anxiety is a disorder that cannot be predicted.  Successfully treating this condition is all about recognizing and acting on the symptoms as soon as possible.  They last thing you want to do is reinforce the behavior, as if these symptoms are reinforced, it could lead to larger anxiety and self-esteem related issues in the future.

Anxiety is a condition you do not have to live with.  Get your life back with therapy that works. Call Bill at 516-428-2841.