At Tuesday’s Child, we work with children that have a variety of behavioral issues including separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in children can be the result from a variety of influences like genetics and environment, but many of the root causes can be drawn to the home and parenting styles that create a child’s dependency on a parent or caregiver figure. Through learning about positive reinforcement and healthy parenting techniques through our behavioral intervention program, you and your child can create new habits and a stronger parent-child bond that can significantly reduce your child’s separation anxiety.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety can be the result of a variety of factors, and it’s inevitable that parenting is a key contributor to a child’s anxiety. As your child has been figuratively attached to your hip since they were born, the idea of leaving them somewhere foreign such as a daycare or a preschool may be daunting for them and, thus, cause a great deal of anxiety for them. Some parents believe that by forcing their child to separate and socialize with other children their separation anxiety will be alleviated, but with love, nurturing, and, above all else, healthy parenting, a child will be able to mature into independence on their own (Leahy, 2018).
The Influences of Parenting on Separation Anxiety
What’s important to recognize is that parenting has a significant influence on a child’s separation anxiety. A key factor of a child’s anxiety comes from parental interference. Parental interference, or completing tasks for your child that they can complete themselves, “appears to be specifically linked with separation anxiety among children with anxiety disorders” (Wood, 2006). When you engage in parental interference, such as picking up a toy they threw across the room, you are enabling the child to look towards you to fix their problems or to do tasks. While helping your child complete tasks is necessary at times, it’s important to allow them to learn for themselves so they can recognize that they have the power to do tasks and decrease the amount of dependency they have on you.
Parental interference may sound like it only has effects within the domestic sphere, but this can also influence your child’s ability to function in the school environment. A study conducted by Wood et al. (2007) found that parental interference “heightened dependent behaviors with school caregivers”, meaning that anxious children created dependent bonds with caregivers at school such as teachers and therapists. The importance of a healthy relationship between your child and their teacher is crucial to a thriving learning environment, but a dependency may hinder your child’s ability to actively engage with other classmates, make new friends, and explore their individuality as a student.
How Can I Help My Child’s Separation Anxiety?
Preparing your child for times when you’ll be away from them is important, not only to gauge how long they’ll be comfortable without you but to make them familiar with not being around you. Along with increasing the length of time you’re separated from your child, be sure to let them know where you’ll be, how long you’ll be gone, and ways to get in touch in case of an emergency or if they simply want to speak to you while you’re out (Conny, 1998).
Your child’s separation anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, especially in “what if?” scenarios that they may imagine. By addressing these irrational thoughts and having open discussions, you can help eliminate these fears. A great way to help eliminate these fears is to engage in role play, especially if your child is worried about being somewhere new for the first time such as the first day of school or the first day of practice for a sport (Conny, 1998).
Structure your child’s free time to give them reassurance over what they’re doing as well as boost their confidence. Examples of this can include scheduling a sleep over at a friend’s house on the weekend or planning a time for your child to meet a friend at the park (Conny, 1998).
If you’re going to be gone for a couple days on vacation or spending the night out with your significant other, it’s crucial to have a trustworthy caregiver watching over your child. Make sure that this caregiver is someone your child trusts, as well as someone that will be alert for any signs of separation anxiety from your child. Introducing a potential caregiver to your child before the event where you’ll be gone is a great way to test the waters and see if this person is right for you and your family (Conny, 1998).
If your child’s separation anxiety is unaffected by these techniques and disrupts their ability to function on a daily basis, Tuesday’s Child is here to help both you and your child. A 2013 study concluded that parents of children with separation anxiety had higher levels of dysfunctional beliefs regarding this anxiety; moreso, these beliefs were positively correlated to the child’s anxiety (Herren et al.). In our Behavioral Intervention programs, we work with you, the parent, by teaching you new parenting skills to implement at home such as positive reinforcement and praise, as well as your child through introducing these concepts in the classroom setting.
While separation anxiety in your child can negatively impact their ability to function within and outside of the classroom as well as inside the home, we at Tuesday’s Child are committed to helping you and your child thrive and succeed no matter the situation. Don’t force your child to be on their own when they aren’t ready, but rather praise them for being independent and condition them to be comfortable without you around. Routinely spending time with your child as well as away is critical to giving them the space they need to feel confident and safe both with you and on their own!
Beth, M. C. (1998). Separation Anxiety; It’s Even Experienced by Older Children: [FINAL Edition]. The Washington Post https://www-proquest-com.cacheproxy.lakeforest.edu/newspapers/separation-anxiety-even-experienced-older/docview/408368774/se-2
Leahy, M. (2018). Will sending my child to preschool help with her separation anxiety?: A 2-year-old is afraid to leave her mom’s side. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.proquest.com/blogs-podcasts-websites/will-sending-my-child-preschool-help-with-her/docview/2007029575/se-2?accountid=27858
Wood, J. J. (2006). Parental Intrusiveness and Children’s Separation Anxiety in a Clinical Sample. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 37(1), 73–87. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-006-0021-x
Wood, J. J., Kiff, C., Jacobs, J., Ifekwunigwe, M., & Piacentini, J. C. (2007). Dependency on elementary school caregivers: The role of parental intrusiveness and children’s separation anxiety. Psychology in the Schools, 44(8), 823–837. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.20268