One of the most common complaints which can be heard from parents of young children seems to revolve around schooling, and one of the first of such parental concerns would be related to their difficulty in getting their child to be willing to go to school. While there are many children who do actually enjoy going to school, there are also some who exhibit a strong refusal to schooling. And while such a refusal is often attributed to the child’s stubbornness or laziness, it is important for us to recognize the possibility of a clinical condition underlying such a behavioural manifestation, for example separation anxiety disorder.

Understanding Separation Anxiety Disorder

While it is common for children to cry, and throw temper tantrums, not wanting to be separated from the persons to whom they are attached, such an insecurity of strangers is in fact a normal part of development for all children. Such tendencies are typically outgrown by most children as they advance the developmental milestones. However, some children may become extremely anxious, exceeding the expectation according to their developmental level, and would get distressed even when anticipating a separation from their parents or caregivers. Since schooling is one of the first agencies of socialization for a child after his or her family, school refusal is most often noted as the most prominent manifestation of a separation anxiety disorder. This disorder is characterized by a fear concerning separation from home or from those to whom the child is attached, which is inappropriate for the child’s developmental age, and persists for at least 4 weeks. Moreover, the child would usually fear as well as avoid any anticipated separation as well, also tending to worry about the well-being of the attached figures, consequently leading to disruption in the child’s daily activities, including schooling, socializing, etc.

Identifying Signs and Symptoms

It is essential for us to be equipped with accurate knowledge of the warning signs and symptoms of separation anxiety disorder:

  • Irregular attendance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sudden drop in academic performance
  • Difficulty in making and sustaining friendships
  • Temper tantrums
  • Defiance, especially in situations requiring separation
  • Frequent physical or somatic complaints
  • Clinging to parents/caregivers
  • Crying/Irritability/Anger when separated

Points to Remember for Parents:

At the same time, it is also useful for the parents to be aware of certain points in mind which could help us in dealing with issues relating to separation anxiety:

  • Provide a supportive environment
  • Try and ensure consistency
  • Provide a listening ear and respect the child
  • Don’t avoid talking about their concerns
  • Increase your own awareness and stay calm
  • Acknowledge child’s efforts
  • Appropriate reinforcement strategies

Seeking Help and Treatment

Especially for the symptoms of separation anxiety, often parents consider these symptoms as a phase that every child goes through, and therefore, it is very important for parents to be well informed of such issues so that proper treatment and care can be provided to the child. In fact, it is important for us to be able to recognize the role of adequate psycho-pharmaceutical and psychological interventions, which could include medications and/or psychotherapy, along with the therapeutic application of play, art or other forms of expressions to help provide a safe and secure space for a child.

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