How often do we hear a parent say or think ourselves that the child is suffering from separation anxiety? But what is separation anxiety in children really?
Separation anxiety in children
We all know it as separation anxiety, the fear of the child in the phase of separation from the mother. It is surprising that in many parents there is the belief that the cry of their newborn, when it is not justified by physiological necessities, is attributed to the anguish of loneliness or the fear of abandonment. This type of emotions in fact fall within the cognitive repertoire, which requires, as the word itself says, a cognition, which is strictly dependent on the development of cerebral connections and upper cortical areas. The presence of this type of emotion in the newborn is therefore really unlikely. But what is theseparation anxiety in children.
In this article
Very often these are projections that adults make on their newborns, because in their hearts they would aspire to be perfect parents and therefore live in fear of never having done enough, or for a hyper vigilant care towards their child who constantly configures them. online on the regulation of the latter, sometimes excessively.
Let us remember that he is alone starting from the eighth month which develops what is known in the scientific literature as distress of the stranger, a phenomenon originally recognized by Spitz as one of the main organizers of the infantile psyche. For this emotion to develop, in fact, it is necessary for the child to distinguish his mother and the figures familiar to him from strangers, to whom he relates in a suspicious manner.
Once within the first year of life not only does the child develop distress towards unfamiliar people, but he has also chosen the preferential attachment figure, which in most cases is the mother, if present, develops a whole series of behaviors that reveal the presence of the so-called separation anxiety.
How it manifests itself
A prime example of these behaviors is fear of the dark or the refusal to go to sleep in one’s own bed.
Falling asleep represents a separation from the attachment figure that must be managed according to a predictable and not rushed ritual, like singing a lullaby or telling a story, tucking in the covers, kissing goodnight. This set of actions create a context of consistency within which this type of anxiety can be successfully managed.
It is appropriate that in the gradual journey towards the conquest of the autonomies, which starting from autonomous feeding leads to walking and the acquisition of language, the child also learns to fall asleep alone and therefore to self-regulate his own state from agitation to calm. And so not advisable to accustom the child to fall asleep in the bed then take him to his bed or let him sleep with his parents.
A trigger event of separation anxiety is the moment the child enters kindergarten or school. In these cases it is best to directly address the child’s emotions. It is in fact natural that the child protests the separation even with a desperate cry, and it is desirable that the parent knows how to accept this sorrow without feeling guilty and without denying it.
Another form through which the child manifests the discomfort associated with separation from the parent is frequent complaint of physical symptoms, such as a stomach ache or a headache in the process of a separation. This behavior is very common in school age and is often mixed with difficulties related to performance anxiety and possible social difficulties within the school context which, if present, must receive proper attention.
Still the symptoms ofseparation anxiety they can appear whenever the opportunity arises to separate for even a short period from the parent; they can then emerge in the child unusual fears, such as being kidnapped or something bad happens to the parent who goes away. Of course, the way in which the parent lives and manages the moments of being away from his child is also important.
How to help a child overcome separation anxiety
Anxiety has the power to pass on from one subject to another and therefore if the parent experiences each separation in an apprehensive way, the child cannot be expected to experience it in a serene way.
We must not forget that at six months the child uses the social reference to evaluate the novelty and danger situations in the world, that is look at the mother’s face and decides on the basis of the expression on the face of the latter what to do and how to feel. If he sees a terrified and panicked face he will never feel reassured.
The criterion that allows us to differentiate normal manifestations of separation anxiety, which is a normal emotion present in all children, from an anxiety disorder that must meet the advice of a specialist is identifiable in the stability over time and in the intensity of these behaviors. If crying at the time of the parent’s departure is considered a normal phenomenon, this is not the case if the separation constantly triggers real crises of inconsolability and panic