Separation anxiety is a condition our children can fall into and which can significantly affect their daily lives. We all know the problems that anxiety can cause in adults, right? Not only its effects on our mental well-being, but also on a physical level. Imagine children, who have less ability to regulate emotions …
The reality is, unfortunately, that children can harbor emotional states that make their childhood sad, yet they have the potential within them for the opposite to happen. Therefore, one of the things children need to internalize is that their main attachment figures don’t let go when they leave.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety results from the fear that children feel about separating from parents or major attachment figures. It is actually normal for this emotion to arise in younger children, just as it is normal for it to disappear in a relatively short period of time: the habit of seeing their parents leave and return eventually makes this separation normal. Children no longer experience it as an abandonment, but as a temporary absence. So when does this become a problem?
This anxiety is detrimental when it is excessive or when the separations never eventually normalize. In such cases, it can turn into a pathology: separation anxiety disorder. To diagnose it, the child must show at least three of the following symptoms:
- Excessive and recurring distress in, or in anticipation of, situations of separation from home or major attachment figures .
- Excessive and persistent fear about the possible disappearance of major attachment figures or some misfortune that may befall them, such as illness, accident, disaster or death.
- Excessive and persistent fear that an unfortunate event will separate the child from his main figures of attachment (eg losing himself, being kidnapped, having an accident or an illness).
- Reluctance or persistent refusal to go out, far from home, to go to school, work or elsewhere, due to fear of separation.
- Excessive and persistent fear or reluctance to stay home alone or without a major attachment figure, or in other settings without trusted adults.
- Reluctance or persistent refusal to go to sleep outside the home, or without being near a major attachment figure.
- Repeated nightmares with separation themes.
- Repeated somatic complaints (such as headache, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting) during or in anticipation of separations from major attachment figures.
Moreover, this fear and this refusal are persistent and last at least four weeks. As a result, the daily life of our children is altered and degraded in all important areas of activity, producing great distress in those who suffer from it. In this sense, children are not the only ones to suffer, so are adults who witness the child’s suffering every time they leave.
What are the causes of separation anxiety?
The reality is that separation anxiety can cause social isolation, decrease academic performance, or even generate psychological and emotional problems. But not only that, it has also been shown that this disorder can cause difficulty falling asleep, but also generate tension between family members. This is why it is essential to know the factors determining this state so that we can get used to the separation.
First of all, it is detrimental that children are permanently with their parents. This does not mean that parents should not spend time with their children, but that times are introduced when children and reference figures are not together. Why ?
Because if there are no times when the child is not briefly separated from his parents, he will not be able to get used to it and it is likely that he will overreact when times arise when separation is inevitable. In other words, to create this habit of separation the child must have multiple and frequent opportunities to get used to it. Normally it is best to start with short absences and extend them gradually.
This will mean that the children will be poorly independent and will seek too much contact and protection from their parents. Therefore, it is important that the attachment figures gradually promote the independence of their children, being the first to make said separations normal. This is how the necessary efforts will be made so that our children are not in the grip of anxiety when we are away from them temporarily.
Images provided by Chinh Le Duc, Dmitry Ratushny and Viktor Jakovlev