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Separation Anxiety

Little Sarah clings to her mother’s leg on the first day of preschool. She sobs as her mother peels her off and seats her at the table.

Eight-year-old Bradley still will not go to sleep in his room at night. Every night he falls asleep on the couch and then is carried to his room and put into his bed. If he wakes up during the night, he crawls into bed with his parents. He panics whenever he is told to go to bed by himself.

Becky looked forward to her first sleepover. About 10 o’clock she calls and begs to come home because she feels sick.

Susan is forever following her mom around the house. At school she worries that her mother will get hurt or become sick and no one will be there to help her.

All these children have a disproportional fear of being separated from a parent. They may be experienc­ing what is termed “separation anxiety disorder.”

The fear of being separated from a parent is natural. Infants cry when strangers pick them up. Toddlers show apprehension when their parents are not in sight. As children grow and mature, however, they learn that it’s okay to be apart from their parents for a time—their parents will return and everything will be all right.

Some children, even as they grow older, have a very difficult time feeling comfortable when their parents are not in the immediate vicinity. Such children may feel panicky and scared. They may keep the uncomfort­able feelings inside and develop physical problems such as headaches or stomachaches.

These problems can be difficult for family members to endure. The child may be very sensitive and well-behaved, and these emotional reactions seem out of character. Sometimes these problems occur within a family that is already struggling with some other form of anxiety.

If your child exhibits such fears, here are some things to consider doing:

  • Listen to your child to try to understand his fears. Never ridicule him for being afraid.
  • Make it clear to your child that you realize her fear is genuine.
  • Assure your child of Jesus’ ongoing love and pro­tection. Review Bible stories and Bible passages that show God’s protecting hand over all things.
  • As much as possible, provide plenty of structure and routine for your child.
  • In the morning, plan out the day’s events with your child. This brings an element of predictabil­ity into her daily life.
  • With prayer and loving encouragement, help your child face a particular fear with courage.
  • If a particular fear continues to trouble your child over a period of time and disrupts normal family life, consider seeking professional help.
  • Remember the power of prayer, and commit this situation to God’s loving care.

From Patient Parenting, by John Juern. © 2006 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Free Photos, Pixabay (used under Creative Commons CC0)