Separation Anxiety is a usual reaction of a child of crying, howling even throwing a tantrum when the mother or the father are out of the child’s sight. The intensity and the duration of these anxiety episodes vary for every child. However, it is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction of a child.
What is Separation Anxiety?
As soon as a child is a few months old, he or she starts recognising primary caregivers. Children around 8 or 9 months old also start understanding cause and effect. Being around familiar people and having a fixed routine in a familiar surrounding makes them feel safe and comfortable. Whereas, any change in their routine or surrounding will throw them off balance. To add to that, if the mother or father is also away, they react by crying out loud or throwing tantrums. These episodes denote separation anxiety.
What is ‘normal’ and what is Separation Anxiety Disorder?
Every child experiences and expresses separation anxiety. However, when the anxiety is persistent and does not go away even after a few months of regularly being away from the parent for some time and /or if the child displays other symptoms which disrupt his or her normal functioning, it may be termed as Separation Anxiety Disorder.
In such cases-
- Children suffer from nightmares.
- They have extremely intense feelings of fear or anger
- They are withdrawn and do not have social contact with other children
- Just the thought of being away from the caregiver makes them distressed.
- Physical symptoms such as shivering, bed wetting etc.
Separation Anxiety Disorder usually displays after the child starts going to school. It requires counselling and therapy. In these cases children have an ingrained fear that they are being punished for something that they did and that the parent will never come back. These thoughts cause intense and deep fear that does not go away easily.
How to avoid ‘normal’ separation anxiety?
The attitude of the parents play a crucial role in avoiding separation anxiety. If a parent is stressed about the admission process, is anxious about starting school, these feelings will be passed on to the child. Hence, it is important to –
- Remain calm during the admission process
- Not say anything negative about school and teachers in front of the kids
- Build excitement around going to school
- Talk to the child about the new school, meeting new friends, new toys and play areas
- Take the child along with you to buy a new water bottle, tiffin and other essentials.
The parent can also make the process easy by
- Introducing some periods of separation during the day by leaving the child with another person for a short time and then gradually increasing the duration.
- Promise the child to be back after some time and keep the promise. This helps build trust.
- Games like ‘peek-a-boo’ help to build confidence in the child that even though the parent is out of sight for some time, they come back. Play this game extensively during their toddlerhood.
This is also a difficult phase for the parent to see the child not enjoying or crying for such a long time. But the important thing to remember is
- To be strong and have trust in the school and the teachers.
- Have an open dialogue with the teachers or the school authorities who may keep you updated during the child’s settling- in period.
- Do not get in the habit of not sending the child to school if he or she cries a lot. Let them know that no going to school is not an option.
It is important to note that despite being positive, excited and prepared for school, children will feel a surge of separation anxiety. That is normal as they step out of the comfort of their homes for the first time. Being away from the person or persons they were familiar with, to a completely new set of faces can be intimidating .They may cry or not want to go to school, this may happen for a day, a week or longer depending upon the child.
And last but not the least, remember that the phase will soon pass and your child will be wanting to go back to school every single day without any effort.