Separation anxiety disorder is a psychological condition in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment (like a father and mother). It becomes a disorder when the separation reaction becomes strong enough to impair people’s ability to conduct their day to day lives and relationships.
It’s perfectly natural for children to experience separation anxiety as they grow up. The first time that their parents go away, even for a short time, can be very distressing for a child, and tears and clinging is the usual response. While most parents can expect this behaviour in their children in the early years, it may also crop up again when it’s time for the kids to go to school. For most children, the school day will be the longest time they have spent apart from their parents and the initial separation on the first day can be very daunting.
Again, this is a very commonplace reaction and teachers are experts in dealing with crying children. They encourage the parents to make their goodbyes quick and not hang around hoping their child will calm down. Teachers then distract the children and before long they have a class of happy, excited pupils. In fact, more than likely it’s the parents who will be crying long after they’ve left the school gates.
If your child is starting school, there are a few things you can do to soften the blow of separation anxiety. First, try to explain to them that although you will be leaving them, it won’t be forever and you will see each other again at the end of the day. Second, you could get your child used to periods of being separated from you by leaving them with a family member or friend while you go shopping. And third, talk to your child about school and get them excited about it so that, hopefully, the excitement will outweigh the nerves.
Sometimes separation anxiety can escalate to the point where children say they feel sick or have stomach or headaches. They may exaggerate illnesses in order to stay at home. More serious cases such as this tend to surface in children during exceptionally stressful periods of their life such as starting at primary school or changing from primary to secondary school. If your child regularly wants to stay at home due to minor illnesses, they may be suffering from separation anxiety and you’ll need to speak to a counselor. These excessive fears of separation can be successfully treated.