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Separation Anxiety | When Clinging Says More

Separation Anxiety | When Clinging Says More


Does your small child grab your legs even when you just need to go to the bathroom or follow you around to keep you in sight? Clinginess is a healthy normal stage in a child’s development, and it is Ok for your little one to feel sad or scared at the thought of being separated from you. It means that your child has a strong attachment to you.

As children grow, they become more confident and independent as they begin to learn about the world around them. While there may be triggers to their “Velcro moments”, such as teething, starting school or the birth of a new sibling, clinginess usually disappears as a child ages. There are, however, others who remain clingy, demanding attention and seeking safety, protection and reassurance from their primary caretakers.

As a parent, it can be exhausting and frustrating to have an overly clingy child, especially if you need to get things done or need some time for yourself. More alarming is when your child frequently exhibits intense anxiety that is excessive and developmentally inappropriate for his or her age. If this is the case, your child may be experiencing a separation anxiety disorder.

Separation Anxiety: When Saying Goodbye is Painful

Young children normally feel worried or upset when facing routine separations from the significant people in their life, causing them to cling or refuse to part. It is an element of their childhood to experience some anxiety from time to time. For some children, however, separations are a frightening idea, leading them to believe that they will never get to see people important to them because something bad will happen while they are apart. It would make sense if a child lives in an unsafe environment with imminent threats of danger to them or their caretakers, but for some reason, separation anxiety can result in a child thinking or feeling this way.

Separation anxiety disorder is a condition accompanied by fear and nervousness when a child is away from home or separated from the person whom the child is attached with, usually a parent or a caregiver. As the earliest and most common emotional disorder in childhood, separation anxiety is estimated to be prevalent in 4 – 5 percent of the young population. The most frequently observed ages for the manifestation of the disorder in children are from five to seven years and to occur again when they become 11 to 14 years old. It is during these times when children are more likely to be challenged by the developmental tasks of starting school or beginning puberty.

For children, separation is a fearful notion because it is a threat to their greatest need – attachment. They desperately need the assurance that they will be taken care. When facing separation, they become anxious because they perceive it as the absence of their attachment. It is the doorway where separation anxiety comes in.

The Impact of Separation Anxiety in Different Ages of a Child

Separation anxiety presents more physical and observable signs in the preschool and early childhood years. A child may complain about stomachache or general ailments, and exhibit difficult behaviors, such as clinging, refusal to part, screaming, and sometimes full-blown tantrums. These signs often disappear toward the weekends, but start to occur again on Sunday nights and Monday mornings, following vacations, holiday breaks, or a lengthy time at home due to illness.

Parents and teachers can recognize the signs that a child is struggling with separation anxiety after witnessing the recurring pattern of these behaviors. While many are able to move beyond their childhood fears of being separated from loved ones and learn to live independently, some children mature into adolescence bringing with them these persistent fears. Unfortunately for some youth, separation anxiety may emerge in adulthood for the first time following a stressful event or major trauma, such as divorce, death of a loved one, bullying, or relocation.

Unlike children, adolescents with separation anxiety disorder behave differently. Gone are the crying, clinging and putting up tantrums. Instead, teens and adults may withdraw from their peers and prefer to stay home most of the time. Instead of attending school or social functions, they remain at home and even limit their adult desires. It may be more difficult to understand the disorder in an adolescent than in younger children. A careful assessment performed by a credible therapist in determining what the appropriate treatment is may be necessary.

When separation does happen, the affected children appear withdrawn, apathetic, and lacking in concentration at work or play. Depending on age, fear of certain things, such as monsters, kidnappers, burglars, animals, or perhaps a situation like a boat ride or another event can be perceived as dangerous and is persistently felt.

Within the family, separation anxiety disorder may negatively affect family life and other relationships due to the excessive demands of the afflicted child. Parents may become stressed as they try to maintain their schedules, routines and household obligations. It is often frustrating for the family and can lead to resentment or conflict at home. It is not surprising for many children and teens with separation anxiety disorder to suffer from depression, as well.

The bottom line is that separation anxiety disorder can impair or interfere with a child or teen’s daily functioning. The fear felt can impel him or her to become isolated from family and peers, and experience difficulty in establishing and maintaining relationships. The distressing condition can lead to missed opportunities to learn new things and enjoy fun activities.

Easing Your Child’s Irrational Fear of Separation

It is natural for some children to feel a little worried or anxious whenever you say goodbye. At times, he or she can be a bit clingy and refuses to part with you. After all, clinginess is sometimes a small child’s common response to separation.

If your child, however, continues to experience intense fear at the thought of separating from you or is so afraid to leave home that it interferes with usual activities at home, school and at play, it may be a sign of a larger issue: your child may be suffering from separation anxiety disorder.

There are signs and symptoms of anxiety parents should know for prompt intervention. Recognizing and acting on symptoms when you start to notice them can alleviate the child’s distress. Initially, you can help your child overcome the condition by providing a sympathetic environment at home where he or she feels safe and comfortable. Your family’s support can help reinforce the child’s independence and self-esteem.

If, however, your child fails to settle despite your efforts, professional help may be beneficial. While there is no known strategy to prevent a child from feeling anxious at the thought of being separated from a loved one, the condition can be resolved with therapy as a first line of defense.
Carolina Counseling Services – Cameron, NC, on Hwy 87, near Linden Oaks can help. When treatment is started early, your child can start to lessen their anxiety and enjoy a much calmer life with a greater sense of security. The right fit therapist independently contracted with CCS – Cameron, NC, on Hwy 87, near Linden Oaks will help your child learn to be apart from you without physically clinging on to you. Call now to request an appointment!

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Cameron, NC

Counties: Harnett County

Areas: Cameron NC, Linden Oaks NC, Sprout Springs NC, Anderson Creek NC, Olivia NC, Pineview NC, Johnsonville NC, Spring Lake NC

Zip Codes: 28326, 28327, 27332, 28394

Rose Thomas, MA, LPC, LCAS, NCC

Specializes in: (Ages 5+) Children, Teens, Individuals, Couples and Families. Anxiety, Depression, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder, ADHD, Relationship Issues, Marriage Counseling, Parenting, PTSD/Trauma Recovery, Acute Stress Disorder, Adult Sexual Abuse Survivors, Adjustment Disorders, Depressive Disorders, Persistent Depressive Disorder, Bipolar and Related Disorders, Self-injurious/Self-Harm, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Separation Anxiety, Disruptive Disorders, Conduct Disorder, Marital Conflict and Discord, LGBT, Substance Use Disorders
 Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Tricare Prime, Tricare Select, Extra, Retired, Cash, HSA and FSA accepted (credit cards accepted)
 Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express


Specializes in: (Ages 4+) Children, Individuals, families, PTSD, Trauma, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Adjustment Disorder, ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, communication skills, and Parenting Skills, Behavior Management, Life transitions, Family Conflict, Difficulty Coping, Relationship Problems, Depression, Anxiety

InsuranceBCBSTricare, Cash, HSA and FSA accepted and Apple Pay

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Shirlisa Daniels, MS, LPC, NCC

Specializes in: (Ages 4+) Children, Teens, Adults and Individuals, Families, Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Panic Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, ODD, PTSD, Relationship Issues, Conflict Resolution and Life Transitions
Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Cash (credit cards accepted)
 Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

Holly Ring, LMFT

Specializes in: (Ages 7+) Adolescents, College Students, Individuals, Couples, and Families, Anxiety, Depression, Trauma (child and adult, TFCBT certified), Relationship Issues, Coping Skills, Adjustment Disorders, Life Transitions, Suicidal Ideation, Self-esteem, OCD, ADHD, Behavioral Issues, Parenting Skills, LGBTQ
Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Cash (credit cards accepted)
 Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

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Carolina Counseling Services - Cameron, NC
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Cameron, NC 28326

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Fayetteville, NC 28311

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