Does your child cry when you leave the room? Is he sometimes clingy or afraid of strangers?
While it may not always feel that way, separation anxiety is normal and described as a positive developmental milestone that most babies go through between seven and 18 months.
The development of this stage shows that you and your baby have successfully managed to bond and that he is developing intellectually.
A three year old who cringes after his mother warns him of his father’s reaction to a toilet accident is experiencing the effects of anxiety. The toddlers subsequent crying is the result. A crying five month old who is confronted by the face of a stranger is too immature to experience this kind of anxiety.
Children under seven months are unable to interpret visceral or instinctive sensations. In such instances your child may be crying out of fear.
Why is my child anxious?
Anxiety is usually expressed when a child experiences unpleasant sensations. This could be brought on by uncertainty, pain or anticipating something uncomfortable.
These circumstances give rise to anxiety causing helplessness, depression, guilt and shame which appear during later pre-school and early childhood years. Anxiety is a response induced when both the feeling and cognitive responses of a child are stimulated.
Feeling anxious is natural and therefore it is important to teach your child how to cope with stressful situations.
What can parents do?
Feelings of anxiety in children can be relieved by:
- Clarifying future happenings so that there is no uncertainty
- Not using scare tactics (such as threats of the boogeyman) to get children to do what you want
- Avoiding (as far as is possible) situations that will result in pain or discomfort
Parents should listen to their child’s fears and speak about them. Perhaps your child doesn’t want to sleep because they are afraid of nightmares. Or they fear the dark. Listening out for the root cause makes it easier to address.
Parents should anticipate certain situations that may cause anxiety. This is anything that interferes with what your child knows as normal. Such situations could include a visit to the doctor, or changing nursery schools. Children thrive on routine, so keep things as constant as possible.
Children find changing schools and losing friends or a pet very stressful. Parents should be understanding in such situations and shouldn’t dismiss their child’s feelings.
You may want to practice separation in a gradual manner and explain things along — this helps your child understand what’s expected of him and prepares him on what to expect. This could mean bringing along a familiar toy in to the doctor’s office.
Try and keep things as predictable as possible and keep your promises.
Familiar rules and limits make it easier for children to predict your response to a situation. Offer choices and make your child feel that they are involved in the decision-making process. This helps your child feel in-control and less anxious or unsure.
Extreme anxiousness can be problematic
If your child is constantly anxious, seek professional help. Children react differently to different situations and sometimes there may be a problem. OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder for example, is an anxiety disorder that is common in both children and adults who have a tendency to be anxious. A child who suffers constantly with frightening and worrying thoughts to the point that it affects their life in a negative way is usually a victim of child anxiety.