Separation Anxiety - Real or Imagined?
Separation Anxiety is a very real, but common, experience for a majority of toddlers between the approximate ages of 8-16 months. A toddler is not able to understand what the absence of a parent means. To a very small child, "out of sight" may be conceptualized as "gone forever." By the ages of 4 to 6 years, the nervousness and anxiety associated with normal Separation Anxiety has all but disappeared.
Every child needs a period of adjustment, however, and patience and understanding should be given to reassure a child who is struggling with Separation Anxiety. Symptoms of Separation Anxiety may include clinginess and a reluctance to be left in unfamiliar surroundings, such as a nursery or daycare. Some infants experience a genuine fear of new surroundings and unfamiliar faces.
Separation Anxiety - How Can I Help My Child Cope?
Children need help in coping with Separation Anxiety. They need to experience the reality that a caregiver or parent can go away and come back again. Many parents are hesitant about ever leaving infants and toddlers in someone else's care. Doing so, however, can be a step in the right direction toward helping a child to socialize and gain confidence, not only in parents, but in the world outside the home.
Cases of more extreme Separation Anxiety are often associated with the discomfort of parents and caregivers when leaving a small child. Toddlers are quick to sense the nervousness or hesitation of a parent who is manifesting their own anxiety at the thought of separation from the child. A calm and reassuring parent is one who will encourage his or her child to be accepting of trusted individuals and the newness of a safe environment.
Research supports the efforts of the medical and mental health communities to provide help and healing for those who suffer with forms of anxiety by addressing the whole person -- body, mind, and spirit. Accordingly, the Director of Samaritan Counseling Services and Licensed Supervisor for the AAMT, Dr. Paul J. Melrose, documents that, "A strong faith shores up one's sense of courage, hope, and trust, in the goodness of self and of life." This suggests that families who share a foundation of faith may access help for the child suffering from Anxiety Disorder by tapping into that faith.
Separation Anxiety - What if I Don't See Improvement?
According to the United States Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General, approximately 4% of young children who suffer with Separation Anxiety will not outgrow or recover from the associated symptoms. Instead, these will develop a more serious form of anxiety known as Separation Anxiety Disorder. Excessive fear that manifests itself continuously over several weeks may signal the presence of this disorder. When a school age child is unable to participate in normal activities or refuses to attend school due to Separation Anxiety, parents should consider obtaining professional help to assess and treat for symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder.