Is your child experiencing separation anxiety? Are you unsure on how to go about in handling you’re child’s separation anxiety? If you answered, “yes” you’re not alone. Many parents have experienced some degree of separation anxiety with their child. Unfortunately for some children the experience is worse than for others. To help understand what type of impact separation anxiety can have on your child’s overall life and what you can do as a parent to help your child overcome separation anxiety, I have interviewed therapist Beverly McManus M.S., L.P.C., N.C.C.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am happily married to Kevin T. McManus, a music producer. We adopted a handsome red headed boy named Kyle when he was 8 months old. He is almost 5 years old now and is such a gift from God. I am blessed to have both of them in my world. We are involved in church leadership and also music and drama.”
“I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and have been in practice for 12 years. I recently hired another counselor, Mae Rambo. She works primarily with children. In addition to volunteer work in my community, I volunteer as a Wish Granter for the Make a Wish Foundation. Their foundation is dear to our family. I enjoy my association with them!”
What is separation anxiety in children?
“Most children experience some level of separation anxiety. Children feel anxious when a parent or caregiver leaves them. This actually demonstrates the strong bond that they have with their parents. They are experiencing the loss of security when they are not with the people who provide protection, care and nurture for them. It is a normal stage of development. As they begin to learn that their caregivers always return, they accept this change and feel more secure even when they are not with their parents.”
What type of impact does separation anxiety disorder have on a child’s overall life?
“For some children it is just a stage. For others, it gives them a sense of power to display an emotional outburst when they are left in the care of others, but they quickly calm down. But some children react to deep feelings of loss when their parents or caregivers are not nearby. This can affect every area of their life. Their social life, their school work may be interrupted, their ability to focus may be preoccupied and their behavior may change. In some children, fears may intensify. They may be dealing with other stressors too such as changes in the home, which may cause their fears to escalate.”
“Some symptoms that may indicate that the separation anxiety has become Separation Anxiety Disorder are: fears about things that they cannot control (sickness, parents not coming back, parents getting hurt, being kidnapped etc.), the anxiety interferes with their life (activities, friendships, school schedule, etc.), they develop physical symptoms from the worry, they have nightmares about separation or trauma that could separate them from their parents or caregivers, or they may refuse to stay in the care of someone else. If these symptoms are present, it may be prudent to contact a professional counselor to work with the parents and child to find ways to decrease their anxiety.”
What can a parent do to help their child overcome separation anxiety?
“Although it is not uncommon for parents to feel overwhelmed and helpless during this phase, there are actually many things that they can do to help their child feel more secure. For example, parents can keep their routine very simple and predictable. This helps the child anticipate what is coming next, and lessens their anxiety. They can also limit additional caretakers to a certain family member or a particular friend. The child may feel more anxious if they are in the care of numerous friends instead of one that they can depend on and trust. When they are in the care of others, allow them to take some of items that bring them comfort, for example, their favorite bear or blanket. Don’t prolong the good-byes. Our tendency is to stay for a few additional minutes just to make sure that they are going to be all right. This just sets the stage for more anxiety. Say a simple goodbye without fanfare and leave. When you arrive to pick them up recognize their efforts in working through their fears. Listen to what they say when you talk about the subject. You will learn about what is prompting their fear. Don’t criticize their feelings but instead allow them to talk it out. Gently remind them how well they handled the situation and that will give them confidence to try again.”
“We dealt with this with our son. I walked away from our church nursery on more than one occasion with a broken heart. With tears streaming down his face, he was crying out for his mommy! It was so difficult! However, I always heard the same report from everyone there. The minute I was out the door, he wiped his tears and began to play as hard as he could. I know that is not always the case; in many cases the children have deep fears and a lot of anguish. I was very proactive with Kyle; for the most part the only other person that cares for him is my mother. Our routine is very predictable. We stopped traveling as much as we previously had. He really needed routine. All of those changes helped him manage his anxiety.”
What type of help is available for someone who has separation anxiety disorder?
“We know so much about human behavior and how the brain operates. All of the research in this area gives so much hope. We know that stress and changes in lifestyle can contribute to separation anxiety. I would encourage parents to notify their pediatrician if they are seeing symptoms in their child. They will likely give them reading material that will allow them to develop skills and a familiar routine for their child’s comfort.”
“If after making aggressive changes in lifestyle, no change in the symptoms of separation anxiety is detected, you may want to follow up with the pediatrician for another recommendation. You may also want to contact a Licensed Professional Counselor, Psychiatrist or Psychologist who specializes in child behavior. There is a lot of help out there and there is hope for each child experiencing these symptoms.”
Thank you Beverly for doing the interview on separation anxiety in children. For more information on Beverly McManus or her work you can check out her website on www.beverlymcmanus.com.
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