What's Wrong with My Child?
Many children express their emotions around major life transitions, like beginning school, with fear reactions. It's hard for many children to leave the safety and comfort of parents and home and go to school where there are strange kids who may not like them, and adults who have different expectations than their parents. School is a place with a new set of rules where a child will be evaluated, graded, and judged against her peers.
If you have a child with separation anxiety disorder, the anticipation of leaving home to go to school may exacerbate the symptoms by the child clinging to you, following you around the house, crying, and not being able to sleep days before the big day. Getting your child to school and then leaving her there may become a frustrating and embarrassing event if your child clings, screams, and sobs while other children seem to have no problem. This scenario might repeat itself for a few days and, as your child adjusts, separating might become easier. However, separation anxiety could also develop into a chronic disorder, increasing your child's suffering and negatively impacting your family.
In the United States, one in ten children and teens has serious emotional and behavioral problems. Many others have symptoms that may lead to problems that will grow more serious if the individual is not seen and cared for by a professional. It is important that the child not think that the problem is hers alone, or her fault.
Physical and Emotional Symptoms
Depending on the age of your child, he or she may be unaware that the fears are irrational. Older children and teens most likely are aware, but stopping the feelings and reactions to separation seems impossible. Symptoms include: panic attacks, heart palpitations, stomach aches, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, crying, worry, anger, acting out (tantrums), refusal to go to school and to participate in other activities, inability to fall asleep without a parent present, and nightmares.
The symptoms of separation anxiety disorder often lessen, and the disorder may go into remission and then reappear during stressful events or times of life transitions. But SAD may become chronic and last into adulthood or eventually develop into panic disorder either with or without agoraphobia. Specific phobias and social phobia may also develop.
Symptoms Found in Age Groups
The symptoms associated with separation anxiety change as your child matures developmentally. Children eight years old or younger tend to have unrealistic worries about harm to their parents and school refusal. Children aged nine to twelve years are more likely to feel distressed in situations like friend's sleepovers, school trips, and sleep-away camp. Adolescents between twelve and sixteen years show more fears around school refusal and physical complaints, such as headaches, dizziness, sweats, lightheadedness, or stomach ache, nausea, cramps, vomiting, muscle and body aches.