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Child and Adolescent Counseling Blog for Lisa Klipfel, MFT
Surviving Separation Anxiety

Generally separation anxiety is a natural event that occurs when children start exploring their world. They gain some courage to explore without their parent or caregiver and then wander back to the parent for security. The length of time away from their parent gets longer in time and distance, until they feel comfortable with the separation.

Most parents that come into to see me about separation anxiety are not talking about this natural event, but when their child refuses to separate, the anxiety is extreme when they are separated, or when there is a regression from non-anxious separation to highly anxious separation. Severe separation anxiety is heart breaking for not only the kids but for the parents, caregivers and teachers who are receiving the children. It is important to address separation anxiety as quickly as possible. Without intervention, the anxiety can intensify.

What is a parent to do? There are several things that you will want to do before, after and between episodes. Before a planned separation, give the child notice of when the separation will occur if at all possible. This may be as simple as, "Mom need to leave for an appointment every Wed at 3 pm and will return at 5 pm." For reoccurring appointment, they can be marked on a calendar. For appointment that are time limited, a timer can be set for when the caregiver is gone. Open ended time away and for unexpected events, these will be more difficult.

After returning from a separation, reassure child that the disaster that he/she worried about did not occur. This helps to confront irrational fears. In between episodes, consider setting aside specific one to one time with that child to increase bonding in a non-stressful time period. This will help the child to become stronger when separation occurs.

Therapy is indicated when the separation anxiety interferes with your daily routine, involves missing school, somatic complaints (such as stomach aches, or headaches) start developing, or when the anxiety seems more than what seems natural for your child. If you are not sure if therapy is a good idea, contact me today for a consultation. Childhood should be a fun time for your child. Let's what we can do to make it so.

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