Causes of Separation Anxiety

A lot of parents come to me fearful that are one of the causes of separation anxiety in their child. They ask me what they have done and promise that they are not abusing or hurting their child.

Relax! Although there may be some things you can improve upon, you haven’t necessarily done anything to cause it. Some kids just have a temperament or personality that lends itself to anxiety.

There are some things we know may trigger separation anxiety in children.

  • Separation anxiety in children can suddenly appear if your child has experienced a loss, trauma or change.

    For example, a common cause of separation anxiety I see in my practice is divorce.

  • If you or someone in your family has been ill, this can possibly trigger it as well. I have worked with children who develop separation anxiety after a parent was ill or made a hospital visit for an injury. Something about this experience makes the child concerned for their parent’s safety when they are not with them.
  • Other things that contribute to separation anxiety in children include problems such as a learning disabilities or poor social skills. If a child is struggling unsuccessfully to fit in at school or academically, then anxiety may be developed as a way to protect them from that stress.
  • Sometimes children who have a disturbed early attachment (from the first three years of life) can show signs of separation anxiety. For example, a child who has had frequent hospitalizations in early childhood may show more anxiety upon separating from his caregiver. This also may be common in children who have spent time in foster care, or lived with multiple caregivers. 
  •  The normal attachment cycle consists of children crying when distressed and in response being soothed by their mother. This creates a sense of safety, trust, and certainty that the child will be taken care of. When this cycle is disrupted, anxiety can result.
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  • Parent behavior can certainly be one of the causes of separation anxiety. There may be some things that you as a parent, are unaware of doing that is feeding or contributing to separation anxiety in your child. For example if you are anxious about being away from your child, overly cautious or protective, your child may receive the message that it is unsafe for them to be away from you.
  • Ask yourself what things may have happened or may be happening that are causing your child anxiety. Don’t blame yourself, but consider how your behavior may be one of the causes of separation anxiety in your child. Getting informed and seeking help is a great first step.
  • Childhood separation anxiety

    Teenage separation anxiety

    Treatment for separation anxiety

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