At first, when you think about having children, you think about your child being born.
Then they are enrolled in school or camp, or extracurricular activities later on down the line.
You will finally have your alone time for your own needs. For many parents, this sequence of events is few and far between. Have you and your spouse not been on a date in weeks? Months? Years? Are you having difficulty leaving your child at school, summer camp, or daycare? Do you feel as if you wish you had your life back and could have some individual time for yourself because your child feels safe enough to be separated for a little while?
If you answered yes, to any of these questions, you may be experiencing separation anxiety with your child.
In this post, I will focus on separation anxiety and the best ways to manage separation anxiety with your children.
To begin with, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, volume five, separation anxiety is defined as meaning: Developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached.
Symptoms of social anxiety and children can include, according to the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders) but are not limited to:
1. Panic, anxiety, or temper tantrums during times of separation from caregivers for parents.
2. Difficulty sleeping by themselves.
3. Fear or reluctance to be alone.
4. Frequent stomach aches, headaches, or other bodily complaints.
5. Worrying about the safety of self.
6. Refusal or reluctance to be away from home or attachment figures.
7. Excessive worry about significant attachment figures safety due to harm, illnesses, injury, or death.
8. Persistent or excessive worry about major events occurring that would separate them from their attachment, person, or caregiver.
According to Stanford Medicine and Children's Health, children between the age of 18 months and three years old normally all struggle with a form of separation anxiety. Children over the age of three have to be experiencing symptoms of severe separation anxiety for at least four weeks to be considered excessive and diagnosable through the DSM 5. Know that, and You are NOT alone! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4% of children in 2019 were diagnosed with separation anxiety.
Tips for Managing Separation Anxiety
So how do we get back to going on date nights and having more time to ourselves with children who struggle with separation anxiety? Use these tips to assist with managing separation anxiety symptoms:
Quality Time: quality time can be useful for separation anxiety to assist children. Knowing when they will have one on one time together scheduled and consistently will create a routine to avoid your child worrying about when they will spend time with you next.
Praise: Use praise to comfort your child and point out their strengths to assist with normalizing worries and avoid criticizing them. Praise also assists your child in feeling safe and comfortable.
Have a Routine: routine drop-offs to extracurricular activities or school will be helpful with your child understanding the structure of separation and togetherness. Drop-offs should be fast and efficient. Try not to linger, which can cause prolonged anxiety and make things harder to separate from your child.
Set achievable goals: Practice separating from your child during short spurts of time by slowly increasing the increments of time each time. Separating from your child in small increments can assist with them being able to manage being separated for more extended periods due to slowly being introduced to longer and longer separation periods.
Self-soothing: assist your child with self-soothing. Special toys or items such as weighted blankets or stuffed animals, a favorite blanket, a teddy bear, or an action figure for separation times can be helpful.
Manage your anxiety: According to the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders, children with separation anxiety often develop anxiety from their parents, who are also anxious. Being in control of your anxiety can be very helpful and useful for your child to learn and manage their anxiety. Modeling behavior, especially when anxious or experiencing difficult emotions, can be healthy for children to learn from their caregivers.
All in all, managing life with a child, who struggles with separation anxiety, can be difficult for both the child and the parents. The entire family system will be impacted. Tips for managing a child who struggles with separation anxiety include implementing quality time, praise, establishing a routine, setting achievable goals, self, soothing, and managing your anxiety.
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