Separation Anxiety is an emotional condition in which young children fear separation as they move out of their parent’s sight. Separation anxiety is very common during preschool years when the preschooler separates from the parent the very first time. The intensity of the emotion and its impact after preschool may depend on how the needs of preschool-aged children are met? How much do they feel safe? And, how much do they trust their primary caregivers?
Research states that separation anxiety can also lead to certain risks related to other psychological and behavioral dysfunctions among preschool children (Biederman, Petty, & Henin, 2007) . It can also affect and interfere with the development and learning process among preschool children (Mian, 2014).
Separation Anxiety Vs Separation Disorder
Given the known effects of separation anxiety, it just cannot be ignored as it can take the form of Separation Anxiety Disorder.
Let’s understand the symptoms between normal Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety disorder through the following case studies:
Riya, 3 year old, was admitted to one of the most renowned playschools by her parents. The preschool had educated and trained staff, child appropriate equipment and toys to play along with some good friends to be made. Yet, every morning Riya would cling to her father and refuse to enter the preschool gate. Her father would encourage her by telling her that she will enjoy playing with her friends. He would also emphasize the importance of being in preschool. But Riya would just not listen and keep shedding tears. However, she would slowly start engaging with the preschool teachers and her classmates, forgetting that her father was long gone.
This is a sign of a normal separation anxiety that most preschool aged children face during their early years. It can last anytime from their first birthday until they turn four.
Rohan, another 2.5 year old toddler, was enrolled in a play school near his residence. On his first day, he was dropped off at the playschool by her mother with little instructions and only a goodbye. Rohan kept crying all day until the time her mother returned to pick her up. He would not engage in any activity with his teachers or friends. This pattern was observed over several days and weeks. He probably developed a strong fear that his mother would not return once she leaves him. Rohan would not sleep at nights; would not go to anyone except for parents; and keep clinging to his parents when they try going out of his sight. The above is an example of Separation Anxiety Disorder. If love and affection, safety and protection and the right affection is missing out of preschool aged children’s life, it can take the form of disorder.
How to handle Separation Anxiety?
Be it normal Separation Anxiety or its Disorder, both can be treated through right intervention and with help from a child psychologist.
Mousmi Sinha, a specialist in Child Psychology and Director at The Crayons School, Noida lists her suggestions for parents to handle Separation anxiety:
- Start by accepting the fact that their child would take some time to adjust in the new environment.
- Be comfortable and do not display your anxiousness in front of the child
- Counsel and talk with the child about what to expect and a great time with new friends at the preschool.
- Do not feel or express guilt when dropping off your child.
- Pamper and have fun with your child after school. Let them know that you love them and ask questions about their day and friends.
- Check with the teacher about what the child liked at the preschool and talk more about it.
- Second day of preschool will be difficult. Your child may throw tantrums to miss school. Parents should ensure that continuity is maintained, therefore give the child enough time to settle down.
- As a tip, share a little memorabilia from home, which could be the child’s favourite toy, blanket or a book which can act as a distraction from the separation.
- Develop trust in preschool teachers and staff. An experienced preschool teacher is most likely an expert in handling separation anxiety day in and out. Let the teacher know about the likes and dislikes of the child, so that she is able to kickstart a positive relationship with the child.
- Additionally, preschools should also schedule counselling sessions for parents on to Handle Separation Anxiety.
Lastly, it is very important for a parent to understand that separation anxiety is a normal phenomenon in their preschoolers emotional development. Hence, it is of utmost importance that parents are able to spot it and help the child adjust with the change.