Parental Separation Anxiety (A Comprehensive Guide)

Parental Separation Anxiety

The parent-child proximity nurtures the physical and mental growth of a child. The availability of parents all the time gives confidence and solution to every emerging problem of a child’s life. A strong bond with parents is essential in the growth and development of a child. But, when this bond and closeness cause a hurdle in taking a step forward in life than both, child and parents, experienced separation anxiety. No doubt healthy communication with parents provides encouragement and confidence to a child but sometimes the child feels distressed in practice life without parents. This feeling of despair causes separation anxiety. The child spends all his time with his caregiver or parents before going to school but when the time comes, it becomes difficult for a child to leave his parents and go to school. The separation between parents and children can cause severe damage to the normal functioning of both lives. All of you may hear the term ‘separation anxiety’ or ‘parental separation anxiety’ which is about fear of being apart. Both parents and children face this type of anxiety and manifest in multiple ways. In children, this anxiety can begin usually before their first birthday and may last until the age of 5. However parents may develop this anxiety during pregnancy, postnatal, or while their child grows up. It can be activated as a result of a traumatic birth, perinatal or postnatal anxiety, existing anxiety. In this article, we will discuss parental separation anxiety. 

Parental Separation Anxiety (A Comprehensive Guide)

Parental separation anxiety in children 

It is normal for the children when they feel anxious to say goodbye to their parents in every walk of life. But in early childhood, when the anxiety leads towards tantrums, crying, complaining about physical symptoms, and not paying attention properly on school tasks, this may be problematic and can be a sign of parental separation anxiety disorder. However normal separation and separation disorder share many symptoms and it may be confusing to figure out if a child needs extra care and attention or facing serious mental problems. 

Symptoms of parental separation anxiety disorder 

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual for mental health conditions, children with parental separation disorder constantly worried about separation and passing through such symptoms 

  • Fear that something terrible will happen to a loved one. The most common fear of children having parental separation anxiety is the worry that something bad would happen to their parents or loved ones in their absence. That is why they avoid leaving their parents.
  • Distress about an uncertain event will lead to permanent separation. Children with separation anxiety disorder have a fear that if they get separated from their parents, it would last forever and they cannot see their parents again. 
  • Reject to go to school. They do not want to go to school for an unreasonable fear and do their best to stay at home.
  • Refuse to go to sleep. Children, having this disorder, have disturbed sleep patterns because they intentionally do not want to sleep due to fear of being apart from their caregiver of parents.
  • Develop physical symptoms. Children with parental separation anxiety disorder usually complain about having a headache or stomach ache at the thought of being separated.
  • Stick to parents. Children remain side by side to their parents and do not leave them for a while 

The above-mentioned symptoms are the indicator of having a parental separation anxiety disorder. If the child has all the problems then parents should consult with any psychologist or psychiatrist as soon as possible so they can help their child in the normal functioning of development. In contrast, if any child experiences some of these symptoms at a minor level then proper guidance and attention by parents can solve the problems of a child. Parents can ease Child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits

Causes of parental separation anxiety disorder 

As every problem has a cause, this disorder also has multiple causes. Lawrence Robinson and his colleagues presented the causes of parental separation anxiety in children in 2019. 

  • Insecure attachment. Attachment with parents is crucial for development and growth. If a child experiences unhealthy attachment with parents he may get sensitive and develop separation anxiety.
  • Change in environment. Change in residence or city can also develop separation anxiety and the child starts to love fearfully.
  • Overprotection. Sometimes the overprotective attitude of parents can also become the cause. Overprotection makes a child dependent because he does not get a chance to explore the world so he may have many complexes and insecurities.  
Parental Separation Anxiety (A Comprehensive Guide)

Things parents should do

It is very painful for parents to watch their child in any sort of problem so there is some suggestion that parents must do if they figure out any symptom of separation anxiety in their children 

  • Try to avoid unnecessary separation. When a child experiences distress and tantrums on separation, parents should spend more and more quality time with them so the child can feel the warmth of their love and presence 
  • Listen to your child. When a child complains about physical symptoms or his worry, parents should listen to him properly with great patience and do not impose their will on him.
  • Talk about problems. Parents should set a routine or day in a week in which children can talk about every problem or fear which they are experiencing nowadays. So that problems can be identified at early stages.
  • Encourage your child. Always support your child in his good and bad. Try to assure him that he is always close to your heart and have a special corner. 
  • Do not talk about the negative impacts of separation in front of children. If parents are planning to separate like a divorce than do not talk in front of children but later on teach them properly in a good way. 

Parental Separation Anxiety

Just like children, parents may also experience separation anxiety in many phases of life. It can be activated when the child starts to go to school or early time after birth. The mother of a child faces this anxiety more than a father. The mother feels sad mood, irritation, loneliness, excessive worry, and less control over anger management. Sometimes mother feels that the main part of her body and soul is missing which gives her a feeling of despair. In the case of the father, he does not want his baby out of his sight and unpredictable harms horrifying him.

Symptoms of Parental Separation Anxiety

The symptoms of separation anxiety given by the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual for mental health conditions are as follow  

  • Distress. Mother feel distressed about being separated from her children
  • Excessive worry. Continuously feel worried that someone will harm her children so mother avoids leaving her children alone 
  • Heightened fear. The ratio of fear starts to increase day by day and it became unable for a mother to be alone.
  • Physical symptoms. Sometimes, after separation from children for a while produces physical symptoms like headache and nausea in mothers
  • Live in surroundings. Mothers always try to be close to children.

If parents, caregivers, or adults are going through these symptoms then there is a possibility of having a mental disorder called separation anxiety. However, it can be managed by talking to professionals like psychologists or counselors. It can be tackled by doing some exercise and a healthy mental process or sometimes by taking relaxation therapies and relaxant pills.  

Parental Separation Anxiety (A Comprehensive Guide)

Parental Separation Anxiety: Conclusion 

In conclusion, it can be said that children need their parents the most in every step of life and saying goodbye to parents is difficult and heart throbbing at every age and it is normal. The problem occurs when the child develops a lot of fear from being separated that his fear starts to stop him from working properly in his life. For example he may face difficulty in going to school or making friends which is a normal milestone of growth. The child develops unreasonable fears about separation and starts to live in those fears. He becomes home confined and sticks to his parents which results in the disturbance of normal living patterns and causes the disorder. This separation anxiety is not only faced by children but parents too. When a mother gives birth to a child, he may feel alone and depressed by feeling emptiness. Same in case of adults, they might experience some heart-wrenching feelings and depression after the feeling of separation from their loved ones. This can be tackled by proper teaching and guidance and consultancy. By educating parents about proper parenting and by giving teaching to adults about healthy adjustment to the new environments and people, this separation anxiety can be tackled easily.

Parental Separation Anxiety (A Comprehensive Guide)

FAQs about parental separation anxiety 

  1. Do all children experience separation anxiety?

Yes, all children at an early age experience this separation anxiety even adults too. It is normal to be anxious by thinking of separation but it creates problems when normal functioning disturbs due to intense anxiety.

  1. How can we discriminate against a normal child from a child having a separation anxiety disorder?

It is the attention needed task to identify that your child is normal or not. First of all, if a child executes problematic behavior like tantrums and weeping after getting separate from you and it lasts for more than half of a day. Nothing can soothe him except your presence. He/she is unable to do daily activities which in result disturb the normal functioning of a day then the child must need a professional. But if your child becomes normal after some time of separation and engages in new activities then no need to worry about it. 

  1. How attachment style is related to separation anxiety?

The method which parents adopt to bring up their children is very much essential for the children’s upcoming lives. For example, if parents do not give attention to their children then there is a possibility that children become difficult to deal and if parents are overprotective then children become dependent and shy. We need normality and balance in every task.

  1. If we feel worried after the news of getting separated, is it a disorder or not?

Being worried or anxious is a normal thing. Every person feels sad and worried when he is about to leave his loved ones or thinks about leaving. So this level of anxiety is normal. The problem occurs when the anxiety started to overlap all the normal activities and shadow your life. For example, you think your parents are going to leave you alone because they are going on a trip, then for a short period of time, you feel bad for your loneliness and become anxious. But after some time you get back to your work and start a normal life. It is normal. In contrast, if this anxiety lasts for a week or more and during this anxiety, you feel panic attacks then you must consider a psychologist.

  1. How adults can cope easily with separation anxiety?

Coping with your moods or problems can be as simple as you think. By changing your thinking pattern and avoid negativity, you can hold on to your problems. You need to just focus on positive things and do some relaxing exercises. Separation anxiety can also be tackled by thinking about the pros of being separated or the positive consequences after being separated. For example, if you are leaving your home for degree purpose and you are facing separation anxiety then you must think about the life achievement goal and your success after doing this. Think best and think differently. 

Parental Separation Anxiety (A Comprehensive Guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.