Web Content 2009
By Heather Berry
A tearful three-year-old tugging on mom before preschool isn’t alarming. When the behavior continues, however, for months and even years, serious consequences in adulthood could follow.
According to the Children’s Center for OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Anxiety, 13 percent of all adolescents and children in the U. S. suffer from an anxiety disorder. Treating this anxiety, specifically separation anxiety, is highly successful when begun early.
Normal separation anxieties ebb and flow during a child’s development. The frequency of these anxious behaviors is the key to identifying a problem. Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a daily struggle and often alters the family’s lifestyle. SAD children sleep with their parents nightly, have frequent nightmares and habitually check on their parent’s location within the home. Anxious children may also have problems attending school and participating in sports or social events.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has a 70% to 80% response rate among children with anxiety disorders, according to the Children’s Center for OCD and Anxiety. CBT is the process of identifying worrisome thoughts and behaviors, then, deflating them with logic and new behavior. If, for instance, a child refuses to play soccer, ask for a reason. The anxious child may say, “I might get hurt. ” A cognitive behavioral therapist would encourage the child to examine the likelihood of this thought. “It’s possible you may get hurt playing soccer, but not likely. No one can predict the future.” Many therapists trained in cognitive behavioral therapy are anxiety specialists.
Anti-anxiety medications and/or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often effective for individuals with anxiety disorders. In some cases, medication is the first course of treatment for children with severe separation and chronic anxiety. The debate continues over the safety of these medications for children. A careful psychiatric evaluation and monitoring is vital when considering this treatment option. Few anxiety experts recommend medication as a sole treatment and combine medication with CBT for lasting success.
Stress is inevitable in today’s society and children are not immune. SAD and other types of anxiety can be reduced by practicing relaxation techniques daily. Parents can use relaxation CDs before bedtime along with stretching exercises to relieve tension. The Child Anxiety Network, www.childanxiety.net, has a listing of relaxing children’s books and CD’s. Teach your child coping skills, like deep breathing, they can implement when away from home and feeling stressed.
Parents of children with SAD and other anxiety disorders must exercise patience as they deal with the daily struggles of living with worry. Other children may run carefree to the playground, while your child hesitates and watches from a safe distance. It’s painful, as a parent, to see your child refuse to participate in her own childhood. Sometimes, children require the painstaking process of taking baby steps as they confront their fears. A child afraid of ballet class may need to observe for a few weeks and, then, have the parent in the room for a few more. Surround yourself with understanding and knowledgeable support as you deal with this challenging issue.
- separation anxiety disorder
- anxiety disorders
- worried children
- Academy of Cognitive Therapy
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America: Getting Help- Children and Teens
- WorryWiseKids: Separation Anxiety Disorders (SAD)
- The Child Anxiety Network
- Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D, 2004