Although there is disagreement among experts about the specifics of separation anxiety in children, they all agree that it is very real.
Separation anxiety in children: Opinions on the matter
Some say that it occurs most often during certain age periods, while others maintain that children of any age can experience it. Some refer to it as a “disorder”, while others say that it’s a normal developmental process. The duration of the distress is a factor in determining if a normal reaction to separation is cause for concern. According to the Child Mind Institute it’s classified as a disorder requiring treatment in up to 4% of children. Surprisingly, it is now believed that adults can also experience separation anxiety disorder.
According to Aaron Cooper, co-author of “I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy! Why You Shouldn’t Say It….”
“From the earliest years of life, we should want children to encounter ordinary adversity because it’s practice for building resilience.”
With the right guidance, experiencing the anxiety of separation can become a valuable lesson for children in how to deal with stress.
Some Facts on Separation anxiety in children
There are also a few scientific facts about stress that can be a factor in how your child handles stress. Researchers have discovered the human COMT gene. When we experience stress, our brains are flooded with dopamine. That dopamine affects the way our brains work, reducing our ability to reason, plan, recall facts, or solve problems. That’s one of the reasons that so many people do poorly on tests. The COMT gene clears the dopamine from the part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for our cognitive abilities.
Everyone has two COMT genes, receiving one from each parent. There are two types of COMT genes. One type clears dopamine very quickly, while the other type clears it more slowly. Fifty percent of people have one of each, but the other half have two of one type. Scientists classify those whose genes clear the dopamine quickly as “warriors” and those whose genes clear it slowly as “worriers”. These genes may be a factor in how often separation anxiety in children occurs. This information can be useful in determining strategies to help your child deal with stressful situations. For example, children with the fast-acting gene may perform better on tests but many need extra guidance to complete daily tasks. Those with the slow acting gene may be better at consistently completing homework but require relaxation exercises before tests.
Physical reactions to stress
The physical reactions to stress are the same for children as adults. Stress causes an accelerated heartbeat and breathing pattern, constricted blood vessels, and muscle tension. If the stress is prolonged, it can increase blood pressure, cause stomach and head aches and reduce immunity to other illnesses. At it’s most severe, a child may also experience nightmares, insomnia and depression. These symptoms can be manifested in tantrums.
While children don’t experience adult stresses like financial responsibilities, their lives are also often stressful. Some of those stressors include media, which often presents disturbing images, peer pressure or bullying at school, and pressure to do well in their classes. Children can also be stressed by over-scheduling by well-meaning parents trying to ensure that they have a sufficient number of stimulating activities. Because they are so dependent upon the adults around them, they are also highly sensitive to their worries and anxieties even if they aren’t expressed in words. Financial realities have resulted in a growing number of households with two working parents, with whole families experience a sense of loss with less time to spend together.
Fortunately, with the advent of social media, parents are no longer as isolated from one another and dependent upon the advice of experts as they once were. This article offers some great tips about how to deal with separation anxiety, both by experts and by parents offering tips that worked for them.
After all, nothing motivates one to become an expert on separation anxiety in children quite as quickly as the tiny tear-filled eyes of a child pleading for you not to go and needing desperately to know that you’ll always come back.