Bye-bye’s Blues: Separation Anxiety Disorder and What Parents Can Do

The song by Average White Band says it all, “There’s no easy way to say goodbye”. And for the child, this may literally be true. Saying your bye-byes to a child who is hanging on to your leg is heart wrenching to a parent. You may also need to bear with temper tantrums, bouts of seemingly inconsolable crying and clinginess when it comes time for you to say, “Bye for now, love, mom and dad are off to work!”

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Being anxious about seeing mom or dad leave is actually normal for a young child.  It is simply part of his development. As a baby slowly learns what “bye-bye” means, he will insist that mom or dad stay by his side. There is a strong sense of connection and attachment between the child and his caregivers – particularly his parents.

It is when the child starts to disproportionately worry about being separated from a loved one or caregiver that separation anxiety becomes a problem. When it turns into separation anxiety disorder, the child may start having trouble with normal activities such as going to school and gaining friends.

The onset of separation anxiety is usually at the baby’s seventh month and extends up to the time the child is in school age. However, if the anxiety persists even after the child is 6 years of age and the child manifests long-drawn-out fear of being abandoned, that can point to separation anxiety disorder. In this case, the mere thought of a parent or caregiver leaving or of being away from the home itself results in one being seriously agitated and emotional. There is the continual fear of a parent or caregiver becoming sick or dying.

For children and young people, this can manifest as an irrational fear of being separated from the people he feels comfortable to. Such is the level of anxiety that it hinders the child from going to school or even going to sleep. Rather than play with peers, the child would rather stay at his parents’ side.

The Roots of Separation Anxiety Disorder

Statistics indicate that there are around 2 to 5% of children that have separation anxiety disorder.
Mostly, separation anxiety disorder is to the presence of anxiety disorder in the family. It is said that the propensity to have separation anxiety disorder depends not just on environmental factors, but also on genetic factors.

What Family Can Do

Family members can work together to provide interventions to help the child. Some tips include:

– Educating family members. Understanding that the child is struggling with the disorder can lead to empathy rather than blame or feelings of guilt. It can also help each family member learn how to support the child so that the child does not feel depressed and isolated or develop a low sense of self. Provo therapists can help provide guidelines and tips on how each family member can act and react.
– Be patient. When the child is having bouts of separation anxiety, you can try to reassure him that he was able to weather the last separation he had. Avoid getting impatient or upset about the child’s fears and apprehensions.
– Make goodbyes easier. You can already identify the times of the day when the child needs to be separated from parents/giver. Often, a child finds it easier to separate from one parent than the other. This should be the parent that handles the transitions or goodbyes. Goodbyes can also be easier if the child is informed about how he can contact the parent or caregiver.
– Schedule fun activities for the child when he is separated. Keep the child occupied during the times of separation by setting up enjoyable activities.

Treating Separation Anxiety Disorder

Aside from seeking family counseling in Utah, concerned parents can seek the help and cooperation of other family members and school faculty. The objective is to provide the child with an environment that is less stressful for him. Getting family counseling in Provo will help each family member be aware of the situation and how they can deal with it. Parents will get helpful tools in getting the whole family together as they strive to help their child/sibling with separation anxiety disorder.

It is also recommended that the child get individual Utah counseling. Oftentimes, the child feels that the anxiety or the compulsion to worry about separation is somehow his fault and that something is wrong with them. With the guidance of an experienced Utah counselor, the child can learn to be aware of these feelings and how to negate them.


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