The makings of a positive friendship

CHILDREN | 13 JUN 2018

Separation Anxiety in School Aged Children

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by parents is, “Does separation anxiety only occur in really young children? My school aged child or teenager appears to get really anxious when they aren’t with me.”

The answer is yes. Primary-school aged children and teenagers can have separation anxiety. So as a parent, what should you look out for and what can you do to help?

Firstly, separation anxiety can be overcome, and once your child has learned the skills to manage their worries, they will become much more resilient and happy, which is what we all want as parents.

Children can have symptoms of separation anxiety from the time they are young; these can follow them throughout childhood, and sometimes into adolescence, if help isn’t available or sought out. At other times separation anxiety can arise later, due to things that are outside the child’s control: a death of a family member, bullying, parents on deployment, separation and divorce, friendship issues, underlying depression. There are a whole myriad of reasons that can cause separation anxiety.

What do parents notice? Parents will notice that their children begin to withdraw from activities that they would normally engage in, where their parents are not present. This can include playing with friends at other people’s places, sleepovers, parties, and school.

Children and teenagers may not want to sleep in their own bed or cannot go to sleep without their parents with them. If you try to insist that they go to sleep alone, often there are tears and tantrums, and there also can be outright refusal.

So what can be done? The good news is that separation anxiety can be reduced or eventually disappear. Without help, separation anxiety can lead to a restricted and difficult time for the whole family.

  1. Talk to your child/teenager and keep the lines of communication open: As a parent, it’s easy to get frustrated and angry and think, “just get over it,” but as a child, it’s a very difficult situation.
  2. Find out if anything has triggered the event. If it’s bullying or friendship issues talk to the child’s school ASAP, and work together to solve the issue. Teachers are a great resource.
  3. Keep encouraging them to attend activities – even if at first you have to stay
  4. DON’T keep them home from school – it is much harder to get children and teenagers back to school if they haven’t been attending: talk to a school counsellor or psychologist if this becomes an ongoing issue.
  5. Talk positively about activities and organise to go with other friends while you are there.
  6. There are lots of good picture books out there that can help explain worries to children and teenagers. All good bookstores have them.

If there is no apparent trigger, or separation anxiety does not settle after a few weeks, it is a good idea to visit your GP and then a psychologist to seek more specialised help.

At this point, the psychologist can help both you and your child, and find solutions that work for both them and your family.

If you would like to see us in person in the Shoalhaven and Wollongong areas or have an online appointment from anywhere to discuss your child then contact us today.

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