Separation Anxiety is a physical condition where a young child fears separation from parents when they move out of their sight. It is very common in a child’s development, however it may or may not reflect in a child’s life depending on factors like their needs being met; how much they feel safe or trust on their primary caregivers. Research states that separation anxiety also has increased the risks of the development of other psychological and behavioral dysfunction (Biederman, Petty, & Henin, 2007) . It is even affecting and interfering development and learning among preschoolers (Mian, 2014). Given the known effects of separation anxiety, it cannot just be ignored. If separation anxiety is ignored, the normal separation anxiety can turn into Separation Anxiety Disorder.
Let’s understand the difference between normal Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder through 2 case studies:
Riya, 3 year old was admitted to one of the most renowned preschool by her parents. The preschool had educated and trained professional staff, all the equipment and toys to play with, good friends to be made and yet every morning Riya used to look at her school and start clinging to her father. Her father always used to pamper her and tell her that she will enjoy playing with her friends and it is important to be in school. But Riya would just not listen and keep shedding tears. Everyday after her father leaves, she would keep crying for a while but later would get engaged with different equipment around the class and forget about her father.
This is a sign of a normal separation anxiety that most children face during their early years. It can last anywhere starting before/after their first birthday until 4 years of age.
Rohan, a 2.5 year old toddler was enrolled in a playschool near his residence. On his first day, he was left at the the playschool by her mother without any instructions but only a goodbye. Rohan kept crying all day until the time her mother returned to picked her up. He would not engage with any activity, his teachers or friends and would just keep crying. This pattern was observed over months. He probably developed a strong fear that his mother would not return once she leaves him. Despite of much efforts, the family and school failed to help him. Rohan would not sleep at nights; would not go to anyone except for parents; could keep clinging to his parents when they try going out of his sight.
The above is an example of Separation Anxiety Disorder. If love and affection, safety and protection is missing out of young children’s life, it can lead to such a strong disorder.
Be it normal Separation Anxiety or Separation Anxiety Disorder, both can be treated. However it’s always better to prevent them rather fighting against them. This 5 practices will help you to avoid the above discussed situations:
- Practice being apart for small time (allow them to spend time away from you at play dates or at a relative’s place)
- Be logical and consistent (you know how long your work will take and hence let you child know when will you be back and be regular in this practice)
- Define time for them (You can complete your snack and papa will be right back before you sleep.)
- Use alarm clocks (when you leave, set an alarm for the time you promise them and say you will return when this alarm rings)
- Feel regretful (when you come back, listen to them, acknowledge and say you regret over what you missed)
Lastly it is very important for every parent to understand that Separation Anxiety is normal part of every child’s development. Hence it is of utmost importance that they should take preventive measures. One of it could be setting departure routines be at home or at preschool. Soon this routine will turn as a part of your child’s daily schedule. This will greatly help to lower your child’s anxiety levels.
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