For many families, summer means sleepaway camp. The promise of warm summer days and camp activities is exciting, but it can also cause anxiety as children and parents prepare to go their separate ways.
Mixed feelings about leaving home are normal. You and your children might be excited for the change, but also nervous about the new setting. Children might be emotional and cry when it’s time to leave their families. These are all acceptable and expected behaviors when change looms.
For some, the anticipation of camp will bring more intense behavior changes that go beyond what is considered healthy and “normal.” Separation anxiety is common but concerning if it negatively impacts your child’s ability to enjoy his or her experience.
So, what is separation anxiety and how can we help our children? Let’s take a closer look!
Symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- Reoccurring, excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or family,
- Persistent and excessive:
- Worry about losing family members or about possible harm to family members,
- Worry about experiencing a negative event like getting lost, being kidnapped, having an accident, becoming ill, etc.
- These fears will cause reluctance to:
- Go out away from home, and
- Go to sleep away from home or without being near family.
Children might also experience:
- Reoccurring nightmares involving the theme of separation, and
- Reoccurring complaints of physical symptoms.
You might notice social withdrawal, apathy, sadness and/or difficulty concentrating. Your child may have excessive fears of animals, monsters, the dark, robbers, burglars, kidnappers, car accident and other situations that may be perceived as danger to self or family.
Children with separation anxiety will want excessive and/or constant attention. These demands can become challenging for family members to handle.
Separation anxiety can be influenced by negative past experiences and current personal, family or community difficulties. Negative experiences cause the parent and/or child to lack trust and look for constant reassurance of safety. An example of this includes children and/or grandchildren who have survived the Holocaust.
Additionally, if a child is living in a difficult situation, he or she might be unable to develop and maintain trust of others.
There are parenting styles and unspoken family rules that might promote separation anxiety. For example, if a child is allowed to cling to a parent or caregiver, he or she might be more likely to develop separation anxiety when it comes time to part ways.
If left untreated, separation anxiety can lead to mental health challenges during adulthood like anxiety, depression, etc.
The good news is that separation anxiety is easily treated in young children, and this treatment will not only decrease the negative impacts of anxiety but can also benefit the child’s mental health overall.
Separation anxiety is treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with Parenting Techniques. This is a joint treatment of parent and child, focusing on how a parent can support their child and promote feelings of safety while simultaneously fostering a child’s ability to face his/her fears in a healthy and productive manner.
Remember, a certain level of anxiety when facing change is normal. When anxiety turns to fear and begins to impact daily activity and functions, intervention is needed. If you’re concerned that you or your child might be suffering from separation anxiety, reach out to your healthcare provider today.