Archive of ‘Seperation Anxiety’ category

Anxiety in Children: What is Normal? (Part 1 of 2)

It can be difficult to know as a parent when your child’s anxiety is reaching a point where they need help. What is considered normal nervousness and stress, and what are some red flags that could clue parents in that it’s time to get help? In this two-part article, I will be discussing what’s normal, reasonable anxiety, and what are some signs that it’s time to see a therapist.

Normal Anxiety

All children will experience some fear and anxiety throughout their life. In fact, it is developmentally appropriate that children experience nervousness when faced with something new or stressful. This fear is natural, because it signals the brain to proceed with caution when facing a new stressor. Sometimes even exciting things can first be seen as fearful to children.

Children experience these normal anxiety-provoking situations by backing off, seeking assurance from parents, or having shaky confidence for a while. When the child has mastered the situation, this confidence will grow again, and you will see your child overcome their initial fear. Parents can help their children to overcome these fears by accepting and listening to their child’s concerns, soothingly correcting any misinformation the child might believe, and gently encouraging the child to take one step at a time until this fear is conquered. Being gentle and loving during this time is the key to helping your child overcome lingering anxiety.

Typical Childhood Fears

Early Childhood – At age one, children are healthily attached to their caregivers, and might be fearful of separation. This gradually improves until around kindergarten age, where this separation anxiety gets better. Children ages 3-6 might have trouble distinguishing between what is real and imaginary, which is why children of this age can be scared of people in costumes, the dark, under the bed, etc. During this early childhood period, children might fear sleeping alone, but this again usually resolves by kindergarten age.

Later Childhood – In elementary school, children are exposed to new and more realistic fears. These can include storms, burglars, fires, and getting sick, to just name a few. As they grow, and gain real world experience, children begin to understand better that these are not likely scenarios. In middle school, children begin to get really anxious about fitting in with peers, and how to act in social situations. They also begin to have performance anxiety, as they begin to excel in their chosen academic or extracurricular activities. High school age children still worry about social status, but also about their identity, and acceptance in the group that they want to be in. At this age, teenagers also begin to worry about the outside world, morals, and their future.

By: Michelle Beyer, LPC – Intern Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S

Separation Anxiety for Children and Parents – Back to School

The morning is going just as you had planned, but you know what is coming when you drop your child off at school…crying, hugging desperately onto you as you attempt to leave, teachers and other children trying to comfort your child, and then, your child being pulled away, screaming as you painfully gather yourself up and leave, reminding yourself that you are doing what is best for your child.

For many parents, the return to school can bring up the worry and stress of this daily exercise. Separation anxiety is hard on both children and parents. Some preparation and planning can make getting through this challenging situation a little easier.

Blog by: Kirby Sandlin, LPC, LMFT

By: Kirby Sandlin, LPC, LMFT

As a children’s therapist, I would first suggest that you start talking with your child about school and what it will look like, be like, and what happens throughout the day from drop-off to pick-up before school ever starts. Allow time for your kids to ask questions about anything from the environment to who will be there to the daily schedule.

Secondly, you might consider showing your child pictures or, if possible, go for a fun visit of the school a few weeks before starting. At this visit, walk around looking at drop-off areas, bathrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, etc. Everyone, even adults, get a little anxious when they don’t know what to expect. The fun pre-start visit can put some of that nervous energy to rest.

My next suggestion is that you read books with your children about starting school and possible feelings that might come up about it. Please check out these 7 books to ease separation anxiety. At this point, you can talk about your own experience with starting something new and how you felt.

Many parents and children also find it helpful to come up with a morning routine plan for school days. You can check out the Austin Family Counseling Blog for more information on morning routines. Once your family has a planned routine, practice it a few times before the first official day.

Finally, when your child is struggling with separation anxiety, I suggest that you get down on your child’s level, do your best to remain clam, loving, and soothing, and share with your child the feeling that you notice them experiencing and then state your expectation/goal for them. (Ex. I can tell that you are a little scared and upset about going to school today. However, we planned and practiced, and I trust and know you can and will be successful with this new routine. I love you and will see you at the end of the day!) Once you have comforted (hugged) your child and made this statement, try to make a quick exit.

The support, trust, preparation, and love will stay with your child. As for dealing with the feelings that you as the parent are experiencing, try to remember that your child is scared and not trying to annoy you. Also, remember you are teaching great long-term skills to your child by having trust and confidence in their abilities.

Separation anxiety is a challenge and can be both frustrating and heart-breaking at the same time; these suggestions will hopefully make separating for the day a little less challenging as school starts this fall.

Have a GREAT start and school year!