Dealing with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety. When does it become a cause for concern?

It’s natural for children to experience stress or upset if they’re separated from their parents. Especially if their usual routine is suddenly disrupted, or they’re not seeing parents as much as they used to. Normal life events such as the first day of nursery or school can trigger reactions that look like separation anxiety, and it’s a common part of child development.

We’re covering symptoms and triggers of separation anxiety and how to manage those feelings during difficult times such as divorce or separation.

Symptoms of separation anxiety

Symptoms can be emotional or physical, so it’s important to be aware of them, as they might not be what you’d expect. Symptoms can include:

  • Crying and temper tantrums

  • Clinging to parents

  • Defiant behaviour, such as refusing to go to school or nursery

  • Nightmares and bedwetting

  • Headaches and stomachaches

Triggers of separation anxiety

Sudden disruptions or big life changes can trigger separation anxiety symptoms. As we’ve already said, these reactions are common, and usually not a huge cause for concern. However, there are certain triggers that may turn common separation anxiety into a disorder, such as:

  • Illness or death of a loved one

  • Moving house or school

  • The loss of a pet

  • Divorce or separation

It’s also possible that children may reflect their parents’ emotional stress. If their parents are struggling with anxiety, depression, they may catch onto those feelings.

Most commonly, if these triggers are caused by a separation from a loved one, symptoms can heighten and develop. Children can become distressed by the sudden change in routine, or lack of control.

Available treatment

Usually, treatment for separation anxiety will involve talking therapy, or psychotherapy. This will allow children to talk through and explore the reasons why they’re upset or scared. It also offers the opportunity for them to be listened to, and work through their fears and worries with someone who can really help.

Managing the day to day

It’s important to know that there are so many things that parents can do to try and ease their child’s fears and concerns, and here are just a few.

Don’t drag out goodbyes

When leaving your child for a time, try to keep the goodbye short and sweet. Coming up with a quick goodbye routine or ritual, like a secret handshake or special hug can be a great way to make it fun, so that you can part with your child on a positive note.

Be completely in the moment

During contact, focus all of your attention towards your child. Listen and engage with them, play with them, do things with them that they enjoy.

Be reliable and consistent

Stick to your contact times as much as possible. Sometimes, things come up that are unavoidable, but prioritising your contact will keep you in a routine that your child will become familiar with. If they trust they’re going to see you again, parting from them for the time in between will be much easier for them to deal with.

At Starting Point, we’re here to help you and your children have a positive contact experience. From plenty of activities to keep you both in the moment, to trained staff that can support the whole family, it’s our job to foster a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable.

Get in touch with us today to find out more about our services.