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Separation Anxiety in Children: Know the Signs

Separation Anxiety in children is an all too real thing for a lot of children right now. Living in a post-pandemic world, a lot of kids don’t know how to feel about being separated from their parents after being at home for so long. I’m no doctor or therapist, so most of what I’m about tell you is from experience and from conversations that I’ve had with therapists in our lives. Both of my children have Separation Anxiety in some way, shape or form. And the thing is, they’re not alone. But don’t worry…there are ways you can help your children once you start to see the signs.

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Separation Anxiety Can Cause Big Feelings

Stanford Medicine Children’s Health defines Separation Anxiety, also called Separation Anxiety Disorder, in the following way:

“Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a type of mental health problem. A child with SAD worries a lot about being apart from family members or other close people. The child has a fear of being lost from their family or of something bad occurring to a family member if he or she is not with the person.”

“Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children,” Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

If your child is starting to exhibit signs of Separation Anxiety, chances are some of those signs are going to include big feelings and emotions. For us, that was one of the first ways that we knew something was up with our kids. Like a lot of other children, their SAD symptoms began to occur during pandemic lockdown in Maryland. They were with us 24/7. Any time I left to go to the store, lots of tears, panicking and screaming were involved (and it was the child doing all of those things). It didn’t matter that Daddy was still at home. It also didn’t matter that the store was only ten minutes away. My kids were terrified of being separated from me.

But even with the pandemic over, my youngest is now struggling with Separation Anxiety. Just this weekend I went out to dinner with a new friend. My 5 year old did not want me to leave. Those big emotions once again presented themselves right as I was leaving. She was crying, clinging tightly to me and my clothes, and overall was just very upset that I was leaving. These big emotions are no fun and they’ll break your heart. But the best you can do at that time is to remain calm for your child.

Separation Anxiety in Children Can Affect Little Things, Too

Believe it or not, Separation Anxiety can present itself in little ways throughout the day and throughout every day life. It can affect a child’s ability to functional normally without fear in their every day life, as well. Unfortunately, as a mother I know this all too well.

Currently our 5 year old is dealing with great amounts of Separation Anxiety. She doesn’t want to go to school in the morning. Bedtime is really hard for her; she wants me there with her when it is time to lay down. She has stomach aches and other aches constantly. Those are some of the more common symptoms of Separation Anxiety. But there are other things that we deal with every day.

Before moving to Monroe, we lived in a rancher style home. We only had one floor. Now, we live in a big two story house. Both of our kids are afraid to go upstairs by themselves. Their bedroom and playroom are both upstairs. They barely play in their playroom because of this. Over the weekend I wanted to test a theory. I brought some of their favorite toys downstairs to our front room. Within MINUTES they were playing, and they played with those toys for hours. Sure enough, my theory was right. They were just too afraid to play upstairs.

Separation Anxiety in Children: Know the Signs
My children’s “abandoned” upstairs playroom. I can’t even get them to clean it without being in the room with them.

There are other little ways you’ll see Separation Anxiety present itself in children. They’ll follow you around the house, afraid to be left alone. They might want to constantly sit next to you on the couch, or at the dinner table. My 5 year old does all of these, and more.

Ways You Can Get Help for Your Child

First and foremost, I suggest therapy as the biggest way to get help for your child. While you may know your child best, being a parent also means being emotionally involved. Getting a therapist involved is a great way to allow your child to express themselves openly without fear of making their parents upset. Therapists are also great because they have so many resources. They’re there to help both your child and you get through the Separation Anxiety. They can give you parenting tips and coping skills to work on with your child.

Practicing coping skills at home with your child is super important. Kids can make great progress in therapy, but they’ll make even greater strides when they have their parents behind them supporting them with each step. Some of our favorite coping mechanisms have included affirmations and books about anxiety.

There is Hope for Those With Separation Anxiety

There is hope for children with Separation Anxiety. Often times, Separation Anxiety is the result of great changes and other big life events. With a little outside help and practicing great communication, your child can get past Separation Anxiety. It will take time, but it can happen.

If your child is dealing with Separation Anxiety, I greatly urge you to reach out to your pediatrician and take the steps to get your child help. Separation Anxiety is often linked with other mental health struggles. Because Separation Anxiety does in fact disrupt every day lives, you don’t want to let it just slide. And while you’re at it, get yourself some support as a parent, too. You and your family will get through Separation Anxiety! Just give yourself some time, some grace and definitely some patience. You’ve got this!

What is your experience with Separation Anxiety in children? Has Separation Anxiety become an issue now that the pandemic is over? Did one coping strategy work really well for you? Let me know in the comments below!