Separation Anxiety Disorder
Most children have some anxiety or fears about separation from home and family. They may not want to be left with a baby-sitter, or go to daycare or school. It's natural for children to become anxious or upset when separated from home, parents and loved ones. Sometimes these fears and anxiety can become excessive, or inappropriate for the child's age, and cause serious problems. A doctor or mental health professional may diagnose a Separation Anxiety Disorder when fears and anxiety about separation from home or loved ones cause significant distress and disruption of daily life.
Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder become very upset and anxious when separated from home or loved ones, or even when anticipating a separation. They become preoccupied with fears that accidents, injury or something terrible will happen to themselves or loved ones. Depending on the child's age, fears often include monsters, robbers, darkness, being alone, traveling, etc. They are afraid they or their loved ones will be lost and never reunited. They may be reluctant to go to school or day care, go on errands, visit relatives or stay overnight at a friends' homes.
Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder may be unable to stay in a room by themselves. They are afraid to let loved ones out of their sight. They stay close to parents and follow them around the house. Often, they are described as demanding and needing constant attention. Bedtime can be especially difficult. Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder want parents stay with them until they fall asleep, and may get up later to crawl into bed with parents or other family member. If they are not able to get into the bedroom, they may sleep on the floor outside the door.
Nightmares are a common problem for children with Separation Anxiety Disorder. The nightmares are usually about separation or loss of family members and loved ones. Murder, fire accidents, illness or some terrible catastrophe happening to family members or loved ones are frequent. Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder may become physically ill when separated from home or loved ones or when anticipating a separation. Common physical complaints include stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and head aches. They may become extremely homesick and feel miserable.
A stressful life event may trigger the development of Separation Anxiety Disorder, such as the death of a pet or a relative, a serious illness or injury in the family, changing schools, moving to a new home, etc. The child's age and situation must be considered to determine whether anxiety is inappropriate and excessive.
It's estimated that about 4% of children may have Separation Anxiety Disorder. It can develop anytime, from preschool age to 18 years of age, but development during adolescence is uncommon. Separation Anxiety Disorder can continue into adulthood.
For information or assistance with your health care needs, call the Trinity Child and Adolescent Program at (515) 574-6596.
This article was written by Pam Lehman, a counselor with the Trinity Recovery Center at Trinity Regional Hospital. Pam has a Master of Science degree in counseling.
Reprinted with the permission of the Community Action Network. © Community Action Network, All Rights Reserved.
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