Separation Anxiety in Young Children

by Clara Harrison 2 years ago in children

Healing the Hurt

Separation Anxiety in Young Children

In recent months, many citizens of the United States have voiced concern for the implementation of the immigration policy and the effects that the policy has on the children involved. Since April, it is estimated 2,300 children of illegal immigrants have been displaced and placed in custody. These children are fearful and have been traumatized by the experience. They have been uprooted from the safety and security that they have known. The immigration policy or no tolerance policy can possibly have a long-term effect on these young children.

Regardless of party affiliation, common ground is found with the realization of the emotional toll the policy has on the children. Children who are abruptly torn from their parent or caregiver will experience separation anxieties. Many of these children will experience loss and grief and will have a difficult time expressing their feelings.

Although devastating, the parents will have learned coping skills to help them deal with their feelings of loss and grief. Unfortunately, many of the children are too young to have learned the necessary coping skills to deal with their losses. Their world as they know it has been turned upside down and how they deal with their feelings may manifest in unacceptable behaviors. The person who they love, trust, and have met all of their needs is no longer with them. Lacking coping skills and verbalization skills these hurting children are at risk for emotional, behavioral, and physical problems, as a result of separation and anxiety.

Unless you have personally witnessed trauma of this magnitude, it is difficult to imagine what they are going through. The child, who has formed an attachment to a parent, depends on them for activities of daily living. Forming and maintaining attachments is crucial to the developmental process in very young children. Psychologists recommend that the child maintain some type of contact with the person whom they are attached.

Unfortunately, maintaining contact in some cases may not be feasible; thus, it is important that there is a surrogate who is willing to provide the child with the love and security needed to reduce the anxieties they are feeling. Children who are unable to bond and establish long-term relationships with caregivers can develop a reactive attachment disorder, a severe condition, impacting on the child's ability to relate to and trust others.

Environmental changes and stresses are the primary causes of anxieties in children. Having too many moves, such as new neighborhood or new schools. Having to learn new sets of rules with each move causes stress for the child. Children suffering from separation anxieties may worry, be in constant fear of losings someone they love, have difficulty sleeping, have symptomatic illnesses, become clingers, and may not want to go to school.

If you are parenting a child, who is diagnosed with separation anxiety, there are several strategies and tips that you may find helpful. You should be in tune with the child's feelings and speak with the child about their feelings. Prepare your child in advance of what to expect. If your child will be entering a new school, arrange to tour the school before the school session begins. Develop and maintain a pattern or routine for your family and for the child. Give your child some control by offering appropriate choices. If you must leave your child, re-assure your child that you will return and provide him with a time frame for your expected return. Involve your child in activities that he likes and be supportive of the child.

If you feel your efforts are not productive, do not feel like you have failed. Consistency is the key, so keep trying the strategies and provide encouragement and emotional support for your child. Remember, the child has experienced trauma and the lack of coping skills make it difficult for them to appropriately deal with the feelings they are experiencing. It is important that you seek professional assistance and counseling to help you and your child work through his anxieties. Depending on the age of your child, counseling could be short-term or long-term. Additionally, a child may appear to be doing well with therapeutic intervention, but triggers cause the child to regress. Children, who are prone to regress as a result of triggers or memories may benefit from maintenance type counseling or as many refer to it as counseling "as needed." Maintenance counseling could involve counseling around holidays or anniversary dates that trigger negative emotions.

The key to successfully parenting children who suffer from anxiety issues is to monitor the child's emotional, physical, and behavioral well-being and to implement strategies to address and alleviate the issue.

Clara Harrison
Clara Harrison
Read next: Allie on the Sand
Clara Harrison
See all posts by Clara Harrison