Your child loves you, but that can be difficult to see when they’re being difficult. However, their difficult behaviors may be a sign of separation anxiety – a common mental health condition that’s usually acute in adolescence. But what if the problem were something more serious? Would you be able to tell?
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety (SA) is both a temporary condition and a chronic disorder. Your child’s symptoms determine whether or not they’re merely going through a stage or suffering from a diagnosable mental health disorder. So, find out what’s going on by taking a separation anxiety test at Mind Diagnostics.
Keep in mind that SA can develop at any time during a child’s life. It’s even possible for adults to experience some of the symptoms. However, kids usually suffer from the condition or disorder in infancy and/or early childhood as a result of the following things:
- Drastic changes to their environment
- Extremely high levels of stress
- Unfamiliar surroundings
- Trauma or abuse
- Pre-existing mental health conditions
Certain medications may also contribute to your child’s reaction to being separated from you. That’s especially true if their medications cause adverse side effects that make them embarrassed or uncomfortable. So, try to practice patience and compassion with your child as they cope with the various side effects.
10 ways to tell your child has separation anxiety
If you want to know more about how your child is feeling when you’re not around, ask their caretakers for information about the things they say and/or do. See if they can create and maintain an activity and behavioral journal. That way, you can track your child’s progress as they either adjust to the distance or become more agitated by separation.
In the meantime, keep your eyes open for the following ten things:
#1. Worry about being left alone
If your child expresses concern about you leaving them, even for a short time, it may be a sign that they’re dealing with anxiety over separation. The signs of worry could include verbal and/or non-verbal forms of communication, including jitteriness, irritability, or excessive talking.
#2. Frequent and/or recurring nightmares
Kids who have nightmares when they sleep are not only testier when they wake up in the morning but they’re also prone to experiencing separation anxiety. Moreover, SA may actually be the cause of their bad dreams. So, do your best to comfort them at night and before you leave.
#3. Episodes of bed-wetting or accidents
Accidents in bed at night or during the day can be caused by extreme stress or anxiety, especially if the child becomes nervous about bathroom time around strangers. They could be feeling too shy or even unable to relieve themselves until they’re back in your presence.
#4. General malaise or fatigue before/after departure
Some children appear tired or depressed right before they’re separated from a loved one. Instead of outwardly expressing their anxieties, they become sleepy or withdrawn to deal with their emotions. And while this may be convenient for busy parents, it may also be a sign of something more serious.
#5. Sudden nausea or vomiting
Anxiousness can make someone feel sick to their stomach, which may result in dry heaving or vomiting. So, when a child is nervous about being separated from their caretaker, it’s common for them to start getting sick. Moreover, their sudden sickness may worsen after the caretaker leaves.
#6. Complaining of aches and pains
New body aches and mysterious pains are relatively common in children who are experiencing separation anxiety or the symptoms thereof. They may say that their muscles hurt or complain of headaches. Plus, the pain is often real because of their heightened blood pressure.
#7. Inconsolable crying or whining
A child that feels anxiety about separation may exhibit those emotions through whining or crying. Moreover, they may find it difficult (if not impossible) to make that crying stop. Even with consoling from caretakers, this symptom may last for hours or days without proper coping mechanisms.
#8. Refusal to eat or drink
It’s hard to have a healthy appetite when you’re feeling sick or worried about something. That’s why children with separation anxiety symptoms or disorder may find it impossible or even repulsive to consume food. Over time, unhealthy eating habits can turn into a serious eating disorder.
#9. Throwing fits
Children who experience anxiousness after being separated from a caretaker may throw temper tantrums because they’re unable or unwilling to express themselves in another way. This may become extremely disruptive and it can even result in physical harm if the child gets out of control.
#10. Full-blown panic attacks
When the symptoms of separation anxiety become too much to handle, a child (and sometimes even an adult) may experience a full panic attack. Panic attacks come in many shapes and sizes, to learn the signs to make sure you and/or your child’s caretaker are prepared with the right coping strategies.
How to get help for SA
Empower your children to feel capable and confident without your presence by understanding the risk factors of separation anxiety. First, observe your child’s behaviors and listen to what they have to say. If there’s a sign of trouble or if your child’s mannerisms begin to change, book an appointment with a child psychologist as soon as you can. They may be able to conduct cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or administer anti-anxiety medications to help your child cope with SA.
If your little one is exhibiting any of these separation anxiety signs, seek professional help as soon as possible to manage the symptoms and teach your child how to cope on their own.