ANOLENE THANGAVELU PILLAY
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a type of mental health problem that occurs when a child engages in disturbing thoughts about being separated from their family or close ones, and worries unnecessarily.
SAD roughly affects 13 out of every 100 children aged 9 to 17. If not diagnosed earlier in a child’s life, about one-third of them will be diagnosed as mentally unfit in adulthood.
Separation anxiety may be lessened through a constant connection on social media. Young children post their lives online not to show off, but to steer clear of the closed door at bedtime, the empty room and the screams of an isolated mind.
Understand, when a child is alone, they tend to visualise a fear of being separated from their family. A child’s overall mood and mental health problems are usually linked to SAD.
Sometimes the SAD can be a response to events that include moving into a new home, illness or death of a family member or friend, divorce, remarriage or switching schools.
What causes SAD in young children? Studies suggest that SAD is derived from family, biological and environmental factors. Children’s anxiety and fear can be learnt from their close family and friends. Note, a traumatic event may cause SAD in children.
It is said that a child may inherit the tendency to be anxious. Simply put, an imbalance of two chemicals in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) brings about the symptoms of SAD.
SAD occurs equally in men and women. If families have a history of panic disorder, alcoholism, depression or phobias, children at risk may experience a high probability of SAD symptoms.
To determine the existing risk factors, question your family history by identifying – Is anxiety a common occurrence? Does the family history portray shy and timid personalities? Is there a lack of appropriate parental communication? Are the parents controlling?
Symptoms can begin after a prolonged illness, during school holidays or after a school break. Each child is presented with different symptoms. Fear of separation can also be a cause of anxiety-related behaviours.
What are the symptoms of SAD in a young child? By asking questions, can you recognise these common symptoms? Does the child display temper tantrums during times of separation? Extreme crying? Excessive worry when sleeping away from home? Suffer with vomiting or headaches? Fearful to be alone? Fearful about getting lost from family? Experience nightmares that have separation themes? Refusing to go to school? Being clingy even at home? Fail to interact healthily with other children? Less willing to participate in school or social activities? Extreme sadness? Difficulty concentrating at school? Is there a refusal to take on tasks that require separation?
A child who has SAD may have concerns about being apart from their home or family that seem out of the ordinary. Their behaviour appears to be abnormal which is not in line with their age.
Online programmes can be used by children to manage symptoms. Early intervention can potentially reduce or eliminate symptoms and improve daily functioning.
When new developmental challenges emerge, symptoms can recur. Seeking early professional help that involves both the parent and the child increases a child’s recovery without multiple recurrences. If you notice any signs of SAD in your child, it is helpful to seek an evaluation at the earliest. Your doctor may request additional tests to confirm the diagnosis.
The school environment plays a crucial role in enhancing your child’s normal development and overall quality of their life. Connect with your child during school hours or other times when they are away from you. Findings shed light on positive efforts of parent involvement and understanding the full scope of child development.
Create wonderful memories together. Spending time can be a rewarding experience for parents and children, who are generally reluctant to share their privacy. Always demonstrate your love by tapping into your child-like personality – create your own fun games.
Your child is less likely to be fearful especially when you display your undivided attention. Children feel loved by this, which provides them with the emotional strength and security they need. Keep your promises to help your child gain trust. Begin practising separation with your child until they become accustomed to it and gradually leave for longer periods and travel further.
Examine symptoms that may have thrown your child’s world off balance. By offering reassurance with love and guidance, your child’s fears can be relieved as those unsettling thoughts fade away.
Anolene Thangavelu Pillay is a psychology adviser.