A Guide to Separation Anxiety

We all experience anxiety from time to time, some more than others, but did you know there are different types of anxiety? One type our children may particularly struggle with is separation anxiety. While it’s not exclusive to children, it can be a particularly frightful for them when they are unable to communicate how they feel effectively with a parent or primary care giver.
In this piece we guide you through separation anxiety, what it is and how you can help.


What is Separation Anxiety?

Put simply, separation anxiety is when someone is afraid of being separated from a particular person, people, or also a pet. Generally, when the separation occurs, the person separated becomes extremely anxious as a result of said separation.
It’s common in children because those who are younger than two years old aren’t able to understand that when a parent or primary care giver leaves, they are coming back.


A picture of a boy with his arms crossed

What are the Symptoms of Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety presents the same symptoms as anxiety, but with a focus on a separation. These symptoms can be both mental and physical and can also be either mild or severe depending on the person.
Signs to look out for in children include headache, nausea and also vomiting. Emotional and behavioural symptoms may be in the form of extreme distress about being separated from someone, along with symptoms such as excessive worry or fear about being alone. Children can also worry about a parent or primary care giver becoming ill or being in an accident. Physical feelings can also manifest when a child knows they are due to separate from a parent or pet. If the child seemingly feels fine and is in good health before their attachment figure goes to leave, and then physical symptom’s manifest, this could well be a tell-tale sign of separation anxiety.


How Can You Treat Separation Anxiety?

The good news is that there is treatment available for those who suffer with separation anxiety, and the sooner you are able to get help to children who are struggling with the disorder, the more beneficial treatment can be in the long run.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common and helpful treatments that is recommended for all types of anxiety, including separation anxiety. This treatment helps children recognise their thoughts and physical feelings, and because of this, they are able to learn to identify triggers and thoughts that create the anxiety. Techniques help children learn strategies to cope their anxious thoughts and emotions.

Family therapy can also be useful for children who suffer from separation anxiety. It can be helpful for families to have an understanding about what a child is going through. With this, they can learn new ways to interact with a child who has a separation anxiety disorder and implement new strategies to lessen the anxiety they feel, or prevent the anxiety from progressing.


A picture of a baby on a rug with some musical instruments

How Can Parents Help Children with Separation Anxiety at Home?

Home is a safe space that can be a great place to practise separation techniques. There is also a lot of comfort in routine. A consistent pattern for the day will help a child feel more secure. This is because routines help eliminate the fear of the unknown. If the routine is going to change, talking to your child will prepare them for the change, and help them understand that there is nothing to fear.

It’s also important to listen to your child’s feelings and make sure they know they are heard. Be empathic towards your child’s feelings, and gently remind them that nothing bad happened in the last separation, and you came back. Using positive reinforcement is also a great way to help your child. The smallest of accomplishments should be praised to boost their morale and self-esteem, such as if they have gone to bed without an issue.

Click here to read more about The Benefits of Positive Reinforcement


Here at St Peter’s Pre-prep, Devon, the mental health and understanding of mental health of our children is very important. For more information on our school, please visit our website!

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