How to Identify Childhood Separation Anxiety?

Childhood separation anxiety is, in short, the discomfort some boys and girls experience when they are physically separated from their attachment figure. In the first months of life, it is quite normal for such an experience to occur when the parents are momentarily distant from the baby, but after a certain age it can be a psychopathology.

This anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of behaviors, such as refusing to leave the house, separation-related nightmares, or somatic pain (such as a headache).

In this article you will know better how to identify separation anxiety disorder in toddlerswhat are the characteristics of your diagnosis and what symptoms can be observed in it.

What is Childhood Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is classified in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM 5) as a disorder that belongs to the category of anxiety disorders. The identification and intervention of this condition is relevant because it is one of the first emotional disorders associated with anxiety to appear in the early stages of life, which can lead to other more serious problems.

The main symptom of this pathology is an excessive and inappropriate fear or anxiety for the level of development of the individual, in relation to the separation from the people for whom he feels or has attachment. Additionally, three additional symptoms or behaviors should be noted below.

As with other mental disorders, the symptoms must have been present for a minimum of time, in this case at least 4 weeks in children and adolescents. Currently, the diagnosis can also be made in adulthood, but in this population it will take at least 6 months of involvement for the problem to be diagnosed as separation anxiety disorder. In addition, the pathology causes discomfort or an effect in certain areas of the subject’s life.

The DSM 5 places the prevalence of this disorder between 0.9 and 1.9% of the population., being much higher in childhood, with a percentage of 4%. Separation anxiety disorder is thought to be more common in children under the age of 12 than other anxiety disorders. If we look at the clinical population, that is to say those who have been diagnosed, we see a greater number of men affected, but if we take into account the general population, all subjects combined, it is more frequent. in women.

The age at which the greatest presence of this pathology is observed is 9 years, although an interval of 6 to 11 years is proposed as the period of greatest risk of developing this type of anxiety. It should also be noted that separation anxiety It is a relatively normal phenomenon between 8 and 18 months of age of the baby, not being considered pathological.

What are the typical behaviors of separation anxiety?

In order to be able to identify and diagnose separation anxiety disorder, it is important to examine certain behaviors or actions of the child in situations where they are no longer physically close to caregivers. As it is a type of anxiety that appears in specific situations and given the age of the subject who may have the pathology, it is difficult for him to express what he feels, it will be essential to have the opinion and observation of third parties, such as parents or teachers.

As we have already said, the main symptom is the presence of anxiety or fear on the part of the subject in the face of the possibility of separation or separation from a person or people with whom he has a close relationship, usually parents. This fear is expressed through different behaviors, 3 of which must be demonstrated to make the diagnosis. It is also essential to pay attention to the intensity and duration of symptoms, as it is relevant that the discomfort, worry, anxiety or fear is excessive and persistent.

Although all symptoms can appear at any age, we have seen that some are more typical at an earlier age and others at an older age. For example, in the period from 5 to 8 years, nightmares are more frequent; In contrast, adolescents tend to complain more of somatic discomfort, such as stomach pain.

Let’s see which symptoms help us detect and identify separation anxiety in children.

1. Excessive and repetitive discomfort when separation from home or attachment figure occurs or is anticipated

It is common for children with this type of anxiety to present afflicted with the separation from their attachment figure and even exhibit a great deal of discomfort when they anticipate that it may appear, although this has not yet taken place. In this situation, they may be apathetic, unmotivated, sad and socially withdrawn, that is, they do not interact with people other than their parents.

Such is the discomfort of separation that can manifest symptoms of a panic attack such as sweating, shaking, or racing heartbeat. You may also express fear or discomfort by crying.

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2. Excessive and persistent preoccupation with the possibility of losing the attached person

Children with separation anxiety are very concerned about the possibility of losing their parents, abandoning them or the thought that your attachment figure may disappear due to injury, illness, or even death.

3. Overconcern about the possibility of an adverse event involving separation from the attachment figure

The child expresses fear or anxiety that something bad may happen to him that will lead to separation from his bound figure. In this case, it is similar to the previous symptom, as it fears possible separation, but this time the concern is that something happens to him and not his parents, for example that he may be lost or kidnapped by someone.

4. Shows resistance to leaving home

let’s see how the child repeatedly resists or refuses to leave the house for no apparent reason; that is, if the child is bad, his behavior might be justified. So, avoid going out of your house and show your opposition to going to school or elsewhere even if you like the activity.

5. Resist being home alone.

Also, the child shows resistance to being home alone or with someone other than your attachment figure.

With reference to this symptom, we must take into account the age of the child; This means that we will value your behavior according to your age, if you are small it is clear that it will not be normal to leave him alone at home.

Also note that he will be considered to have this symptom if he refuses to be alone in a room, even if his parents are home but in another room. They constantly follow their parents wherever they go, they never leave them alone.

6. Shows refusal to sleep outside your home

The child refuses to sleep anywhere but at home, although the place is known as a relative’s house. He may also be reluctant to sleep away from the attachment figure, being able to sleep away from home, but as long as he is with her.

Likewise, we will observe that they do not want to go to the colonies, stay overnight with a friend or travel.

7. You have recurring separation nightmares.

the child it’s about having dreams related to separation, lost, from the attachment figure. These nightmares occur repeatedly and persistently and, as mentioned above, are more common in younger subjects between the ages of 5 and 8 years old.

8. Refers to repeated complaints of physical symptoms during separation

The child complains of somatic, physical discomforts, such as headaches, stomach aches, pains muscular… When you anticipate that separation from the linked figure is imminent or when such an event occurs. In this case, it is also important to assess whether this discomfort only appears before the separation, that is to say only in this precise situation and to check that it is not a behavior punctual, but that it persists over time and is repeated.

9. Shows Sleep Problems

It is common to note that when leaving In bed, children with this problem are reluctant to do so or ask their parents to stay with them. They may also get up at night and go to their parents’ or siblings’ room to sleep with them.

10. You may have other fears

The child may express other fears such as darkness, thieves, accidents, animals or fantastical creatures, among others. That is to say, fear of stimuli or elements that can lead to separation from the bound figure.

The solution is to go to therapy

Faced with separation anxiety, the most effective way to overcome the disorder is to undergo psychological therapy as soon as possible, so that this disorder does not produce a domino effect giving rise to other sources of emotional discomfort. and psychosocial.

If you are interested in having psychological support for parents or are looking for psychotherapy services for children, Contact us.

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