All Posts Tagged: separation anxiety

child wearing face mask in empty classroom

Separation Anxiety: Going Back To School During The Pandemic

As the 2020 – 2021 school year begins, children who normally go through separation anxiety may be even more anxious about going back into the classroom during the pandemic. After all, the beginning of a new school year can be threatening during normal times, but returning into a situation where the coronavirus is likely to be present has raised anxiety levels in many kids and parents.

For parents who live in school districts that offer a choice between virtual or in-person learning, how do you make a decision about which is best for your child? Being safe at home means that kids who have special needs or who learn better in person will lose out on many learning opportunities. Children who are fearful of being in a classroom, however, will struggle more if they have to go back into the school.

All this stress can bring up school refusal in kids, not to mention heightened school anxiety in parents.

Separation Anxiety And Classroom Learning During Covid-19

Sometimes separation anxiety and school refusal begin for a child who has gone through an illness or an emotional trauma, such as moving from one neighborhood to another. In the case of the pandemic, however, illness and death is all we hear about on the news, so a child who may already be inclined to separation anxiety will only worry more.

Parents hardly fare better – in many cases they are having to choose whether to stay home with kids who will be learning virtually (thus, risking their jobs) or sending their child into a possibly contagious environment. Either way, the decision is highly distressing.

Separation Anxiety Definition

If an anxious child shows excessive concern about a separation from a parent or caregiver, or from their home, they might have developed a separation anxiety disorder. In addition, separation anxiety may be present if they show fear about the situation that is inappropriate to their age or stage of development.

Parents who are extreme worriers may show similar symptoms, which could indicate their own anxiety disorder. This is particularly true if they have been overly anxious about the safety of their child during the pandemic.

Emotional and Physical Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety

Children (and parents) who have separation anxiety may show the following symptoms including:

  • Constantly imagining worst-case scenarios
  • Difficulty going to sleep, fear of the dark, and/or nightmares
  • Avoiding activities that result in separation from the parent or child
  • Excessive worry about potential harm or illness happening to them
  • Children may be clingy, may fear being alone in a room, or may need to see a parent at all times
  • Adults may feel anxious about the child’s safety if they aren’t within sight
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches and/or nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Needing frequent trips to the toilet

If a child or a parent exhibits three or more of these symptoms for more than four weeks, they are likely suffering from a separation anxiety disorder.

Separation Anxiety Treatment

While you can’t control the things that happen around you, you can learn how to control your responses and actions. When treating someone for separation anxiety, therapists try to help them learn to identify and change their anxious thoughts. Then, they teach coping methods to help the person react less fearfully to the situations that trigger their anxiety.

Remember – it is natural to worry, but we can learn to keep our fears from spiraling out of control by “naming” and identifying our thoughts. For instance, if  your child starts to imagine getting sick in school, and then pictures getting so sick they end up in the hospital, have them practice labeling these thoughts as something less threatening (ie:”That’s just a Bugs Bunny thought hopping around!”). This can often help remind the child that they are just thoughts and we are in charge of how we react to them.

Sometimes, however, self talk still can’t calm the fear and an anxiety disorder can begin. If you suspect that your child is developing an anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The longer the anxiety continues, the harder it can be to treat.

Connect with a Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center

For more information about our services to treat mental disorders in children,  contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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kids at summer camp

More Pandemic Grief: No Summer Camp, Plus School At Home

We’ve hit midsummer and kids across the country have had to deal with the disappointment of canceled summer camps this year. Now, many school districts are making parents choose between virtual learning this fall or sending their children to school during a pandemic. Some school districts are going entirely virtual. Having to face more upheaval in a year of unprecedented changes has brought up grief and anxiety for both kids and parents. Yet, despite this turmoil, there are some good things that have come from the pandemic.

The Good – Some Pandemic Silver Linings

One of the most significant changes are the family ties that formed or remodeled after our hectic lives were halted. Parents and kids are spending more time together as a family because extracurricular activities aren’t taking precedence. Plus parents who are working from home have extra time to interact with their children since they don’t have to commute.

Just being able to play like children has been good for kids. Often their lives are structured from the time they awaken until they fall into bed at night, so being able to simply play has been good for developing their imagination, exploring their world, and just being a kid.

The Bad – Pandemic Grief And Anxiety

For many kids, having no summer camp has been very distressing. It’s something they look forward to –often, they have friends there that they don’t see for the rest of the year because they live in a different state. For teens who were anticipating becoming camp counselors or who were attending their final year of camp, not being able to go is beyond frustrating.

Furthermore, children haven’t seen most of their school friends in person for several months and are now being told they likely won’t see them this fall, either. In addition, when it comes to learning, many kids do better in a classroom environment where they can see examples and question the teacher directly, so it’s upsetting for them to know they will be stuck at home and struggling with virtual learning.

Parents faced similar emotions at the canceling of camp and the prospect of having their children home for at least some of the fall school semester. Along with having to figure out how to keep kids meaningfully entertained, they’re grieving the loss of their own couple’s trips and trying to navigate another semester of being involuntary teachers.

PTSD And Anxiety In Children During COVID-19

Just as with adults, the stress of life during coronavirus has dramatically altered children’s day-to-day world.

Natural disasters like a pandemic can have long term effects on kid’s emotional and mental health. In studies of children’s mental health after Hurricane Katrina, researcher Carolyn Kousky, reported that, “researchers found high rates of PTSD symptoms as well as other negative mental health impacts and behaviors, such as aggression in adolescent.” Furthermore, a 2013 study found that kids who had gone through a quarantine for disease control scored four times higher on a post-traumatic stress test than children who hadn’t been quarantined.

You can see why it is vital for parents and adult family members to help kids make sense of the pandemic, especially in an accurate way that minimizes their fears.

  • Be available to talk if they have questions (and be sure they know they can come to you).
  • Speak to your children in a calm voice. Try to be reassuring about their fears. Remember that kids can and do pick up on cues in your tone and body language.
  • Validate their feelings of loss and try to show empathy.
  • Try to reduce or limit news broadcasts and screen time so your child (or you!) doesn’t become overwhelmed by news coverage of the pandemic.
  • Try not to condemn or ridicule someone you know to your kids if they have been sick with the virus.
  • Remind kids that rumors run wild on social media. Many stories are inaccurate.

To avoid any long term consequences, it’s essential that parents take steps to address and reduce any COVID-19 anxiety their children may have. KidsHealth.org provides great resources for keeping kids busy during the pandemic and has some helpful ideas for addressing the topic with your child.

Helping Children With Anxiety

For more information about how our mental health professionals and child psychologists can help your child deal with anxiety about the pandemic, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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7 Tips for Overcoming Back to School Anxiety

Another school year has come around and with it, the possibility of extreme fear and separation anxiety for some children. Although it’s normal for any kid to have a certain degree of back to school anxiety, there is a huge difference between a child who is nervous about the new school year and one whose anxiety is severe enough to seek professional care.

Kids often worry about things like fitting in or whether the teacher will pick on them, which increases their stress. In the week leading up to the beginning of the school year or in the last few days before the end of a school break, younger kids may show some separation anxiety by crying frequently, throwing temper tantrums, or being more clingy than usual. Older children’s school anxiety symptoms can include being moody or irritable, complaining of headaches or stomach aches, or withdrawing into themselves.  So how can a parent tell if their child just has school jitters or if they truly have back to school anxiety?

Fears about new teachers, harder school work, and being away from their parents are common for kids and usually stop within a couple of weeks once the child settles into the routine of the new school year. For those children whose anxiety symptoms continue beyond the first four or five weeks of school or seem extreme or inappropriate for their developmental level, a consultation with a therapist may be in order.

Tips to Ease School Fears

If your child is worried about the new school year, these back to school anxiety tips can help

  • Help you child identify what it is they are worrying about. Assure them that it’s normal to have fears. Give them your full attention and be sure to set a regular time and place to talk to them about their concerns. For example, bath time might be a good time to talk to a younger child, while a teen might be more receptive later in the evening.
  • Focus on the positives: In order to redirect your child’s attention from their worries, ask them to tell you a couple of things that are positive about school. Generally, even the most nervous child can think of something they like about it. Maybe they have a new friend or enjoy a certain subject or look forward to working on an art project. Looking for the positives can make the negatives seem a little less overwhelming.
  • Don’t pacify the child, instead coach them to come up with ways to solve their problem. Telling your child that “things will be okay” doesn’t help them get past their fears. What does is giving them some control. Encourage the child to give you some ideas of ways they can deal with what’s concerning them. This type of problem-solving helps them learn coping skills and teaches them critical thinking so they can develop a plan instead of simply reacting negatively.
  • Try role-playing. Going through a particular scenario can often help your child feel confident. Let the child be the “bad guy” teacher or scary bully, while you play the part of the child. Your responses can help them learn how to deal with the situation appropriately and allow them to respond with less fear.
  • Reinforce positive behaviors and reward their successes and their bravery in facing what they fear.
  • Be supportive, but don’t allow them to stay home from school. Even though it is normal for your child to worry about going to school, it is crucial that they attend. Allowing them to avoid school only increases and reinforces their fears. The longer they stay out of school the harder it can be for them to go back.
  • Seek professional help for back to school anxiety that gets worse or lasts more than about four weeks. Additionally, medication is sometimes appropriate in severe cases of separation anxiety.

Help Your Child Overcome Back to School Anxiety

If your child is struggling with back to school anxiety, it may be time to seek help from a compassionate child psychologist at Children’s Center for Psychiatry, Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida. Contact us or call us for more information at (561) 223-6568.

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Virtual Reality Apps Are Helping Children With Anxiety

Sometimes it isn’t easy to go through childhood. There’s a big, scary world out there and new activities or experiences can often bring up anxiety in children. But, what if there was a way for your child to experience a new scenario in a safe, nurturing way so they could reduce their anxiety before taking part in the activity? Enter virtual reality apps. The growing field of virtual reality therapy is combining cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and in-vivo exposure therapy in a fun way – on a powerful and engaging game-like platform that children can easily relate to.

How Can VR Apps Help My Child?

The Children’s Center’s innovative Giant Leap app is great example of a high-tech solution that gives kids control over their fears. Giant Leap and other VR apps can be used in a variety of scenarios, such as:

  • Helping to reduce school anxiety
  • Addressing the child’s concerns before a visit to the doctor
  • Calming their separation anxiety when staying home with a babysitter

For example, one child might be apprehensive about classroom interaction in school, while another may worry about an upcoming medical procedure, such as getting an MRI. Both kids could conquer their fears by watching exposure stories on the app, which will show them what to expect from the upcoming experience.

VR apps can also be used to manage behaviors and teach your child emotional regulation techniques. Featuring customizable avatars that can be configured to match your child’s hair color, style, and skin tone (and can even use a photo of your child), these entertaining virtual reality apps encourage independence and motivate kids through stories, videos, and flexible charts and reward systems.

How Effective Are Virtual Reality Apps?

Studies are showing that virtual reality apps amplify the areas of the brain that are related to attention and control. The result is that children:

  • Strengthen their daily living skills
  • Learn emotional regulation techniques
  • Report having more control when faced with real-life issues

Animated stories like the ones provided on the Giant Leap app gradually expose the child, via their avatar, to the scenario they are worried about (for example: visiting the dentist). Kids work through one scene at a time, at their own pace, until they are ready to move forward to the next one on their own. These meaningful, close-to-life scenarios offer immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Furthermore, positive behavior can be learned and reinforced through virtual reality apps and tailored to each child’s individual needs. Flexible programs allow parents to customize the app to their child’s specific activities and situations while encouraging routines and building life skills. By motivating and rewarding appropriate behavior, children learn to function independently, and gain powerful tools that lead to future success.

Learn More About Our Giant Leap App

For more information about how virtual reality apps like our Giant Leap app can help with child anxiety treatment, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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Treatment for School Refusal and Separation Anxiety

The summer is waning – it’s almost time for autumn to roll around again, which means school will be starting soon. While most children look forward to this time so they can see their friends and enjoy various school activities, this can be a period of major anxiety for some school-aged children. These kids are extremely unwilling to leave home or be away from major attachment figures such as parents, grandparents, or older siblings. The beginning of the new school year is often seen as a threat to them, resulting in elevated anxiety levels and possible school-related disorders, such as separation anxiety disorder and school refusal.

In some cases the separation anxiety and school refusal follow an infection or illness or can come after an emotional trauma such as a move to another neighborhood or the death of a loved one. The anxiety generally occurs after the child has spent an extended time with their parent or loved one, perhaps over summer break or a long vacation.

Anxiety Definition

A teen or child is said to be suffering from a separation anxiety disorder if they show excessive anxiety related to the separation from a parent or caregiver or from their home, or if they exhibit an inappropriate anxiety about this separation as related to their age or stage of development. School refusal and separation anxiety are not the same: school refusal is not an “actual” diagnosis, instead it is a result of the child or teen having a separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, or social phobia, among other diagnoses.

Separation Anxiety Physical Symptoms

Children with separation anxiety have symptoms which can include:

  • Excessive worry about potential harm befalling oneself or one’s caregiver
  • Demonstrating clingy behavior
  • Avoiding activities that may result in separation from parents
  • Fearing to be alone in a room or needing to see a parent at all times
  • Difficulty going to sleep, fear of the dark, and/or nightmares
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches and/or nausea
  • Vomiting

A child who exhibits three or more of these symptoms for more than four weeks is likely to be suffering from a separation anxiety disorder.

Treatment for School Refusal and Separation Anxiety

When treating a child with separation anxiety and school refusal, therapists try to help the child learn to identify and change their anxious thoughts. They teach coping mechanisms that will help the child respond less fearfully to the situations that produce their anxiety. This can be done through role-playing or by modeling the appropriate behavior for the child to see. Medication is sometimes appropriate in severe cases of separation anxiety. Additionally, the therapist encourages child to use positive self-talk and parents help with this therapy by actively reinforcing positive behaviors and rewarding their child’s successes.

Have Questions? Need Help?

To get more information and help for child anxiety, separation anxiety and school refusal, please contact The Children’s Center for Psychiatry, Psychology, & Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-223-6568.

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Child Anxiety – Divorce Therapy for Children

Child Anxiety – Divorce Therapy for Children

Going through a divorce is stressful enough for the couple involved, but when children are added to the mix, it can bring a youngster’s fears to the forefront and trigger a cycle of child anxiety. The youth suddenly finds his or her world fracturing apart as the family divides into separate households. And, often the child has to adjust to living in a new home or going to a new school in addition to coping with their parent’s split.

Among other things, a divorce can increase a child’s aggression, bring up issues of separation anxiety, and negatively impact either (or both) the social and school performances of the youngster. It also increases the stress levels in children who already suffer from anxiety issues or mood disorders and can initiate anxiety-related concerns in children who do not normally have them.

Helping Children Cope with Divorce

When parents divorce, their children often react by showing:

  • Regressive behaviors (bedwetting, tantrums, thumb sucking, refusing to go to bed)
  • Rebellious behaviors (anger, disobedience, or (in an older child) disregard for the parents)
  • Increased episodes of crying or whining
  • Feel “sick” when they are healthy or becoming clingy
  • Separation anxiety
  • Blaming themselves for the divorce

The following are some ways that you, as a parent, can help diffuse some of the tension and child anxiety when going through a divorce:

  • Respect your child’s feelings and encourage them to talk to you about their fears. You may not have all the answers, but sometimes just listening and being supportive to your child can be enough.
  • Remember that your child has lost something, too. They have lost their time with one parent when they are with the other parent and, in many cases, have lost their familiar surroundings, peers, and maybe even a beloved pet or best friend.
  • Reassure your child that, no matter what, you love them now and will always love them. Be sure they understand that the divorce was not their fault and that there is nothing they could have done to prevent it.
  • Try to keep the same routines for bedtime, homework, play time, etc. New routines might need to be added (for example: going to the other parent’s house every Friday night), but keeping as close as possible to the same schedule helps children feel secure. It lets them know what to expect.
  • Rituals also create a sense of safety for your child. A family ritual such as “game night” creates an anchor for your child and gives them a sense of familiarity and a way to relate within their new world.

How Divorce Therapy for Children Can Help

Many times children will adjust to the breakup of a marriage after a “settling in” period, but in the case of youngsters who already have some anxiety, therapy might be the answer to helping children cope with divorce.

Divorce therapy for children is usually conducted through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of treatment is based on the theory that our thoughts cause our behavior and our resulting feelings – other people do not cause them. By understanding this and learning to modify our reactions, we can influence our emotions in a positive way so we can feel better about things we can not change. Becoming aware of inaccurate or negative thinking allows your child to change to a more positive way of thinking in order to decrease their anxiety.

Need More Information?

Is your child struggling with your divorce? We offer divorce therapy for children in a safe, supportive South Florida environment. For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-223-6568.

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Separation Anxiety and School Refusal

The summer is waning – it’s almost time for autumn to roll around again, which means school will be starting soon. While most children look forward to this time so they can see their friends and enjoy various school activities, this can be a period of major anxiety for some school-aged children. These kids are extremely unwilling to leave home or be away from major attachment figures such as parents, grandparents, or older siblings. The beginning of the new school year is often seen as a threat to them, resulting in elevated anxiety levels and possible school-related disorders, such as separation anxiety disorder and school refusal.

In some cases the separation anxiety and school refusal follow an infection or illness or can come after an emotional trauma such as a move to another neighborhood or the death of a loved one. The anxiety generally occurs after the child has spent an extended time with their parent or loved one, perhaps over summer break or a long vacation.

Anxiety Definition

A teen or child is said to be suffering from a separation anxiety disorder if they show excessive anxiety related to the separation from a parent or caregiver or from their home, or if they exhibit an inappropriate anxiety about this separation as related to their age or stage of development. School refusal and separation anxiety are not the same: school refusal is not an “actual” diagnosis, instead it is a result of the child or teen having a separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, or social phobia, among other diagnoses.

Separation Anxiety Physical Symptoms

Children with separation anxiety have symptoms which can include:

  • Excessive worry about potential harm befalling oneself or one’s caregiver
  • Demonstrating clingy behavior
  • Avoiding activities that may result in separation from parents
  • Fearing to be alone in a room or needing to see a parent at all times
  • Difficulty going to sleep, fear of the dark, and/or nightmares
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches and/or nausea
  • Vomiting

A child who exhibits three or more of these symptoms for more than four weeks is likely to be suffering from a separation anxiety disorder.

Treatment for School Refusal and Separation Anxiety

When treating a child with separation anxiety and school refusal, therapists try to help the child learn to identify and change their anxious thoughts. They teach coping mechanisms that will help the child respond less fearfully to the situations that produce their anxiety. This can be done through role-playing or by modeling the appropriate behavior for the child to see. Medication is sometimes appropriate in severe cases of separation anxiety. Additionally, the therapist encourages child to use positive self-talk and parents help with this therapy by actively reinforcing positive behaviors and rewarding their child’s successes.

Have Questions? Need Help?

To get more information and help for child anxiety, separation anxiety and school refusal, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-223-6568 today.

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Summer Camp Separation Anxiety – Tips for Reducing Child Anxiety

Summer Camp Separation Anxiety – Tips for Reducing Child Anxiety

For many people, memories of going away to summer camp are some of the fondest they will ever have. Camp provides the opportunity to make new friends and share new adventures. When your child is going off to camp for the first time, however, fear of separation can make the experience seem dreadful for both parent and child, especially in the case of sleep-away camps.

Paying close attention to your child’s concerns is the first step in alleviating their anxiety. A child’s summer camp separation anxiety can display itself in a number of ways, including:

  • Unrealistic fear that someone close to them will be harmed while they are away
  • Reluctance to attend the camp
  • Persistent avoidance of being left alone
  • Nightmares involving themes of separation
  • Physical complaints when separated
  • Excessive distress when separation is anticipated

Repeated physical complaints can also be a sign of summer camp separation anxiety. These symptoms could be any of the following:

  • Stomach problems
  • Headaches
  • Cold or clammy hands
  • Nausea
  • Feeling faint
  • Being hot or cold

Fortunately, there are plenty of tips to help parents reduce their child’s separation anxiety. Parents are encouraged to:

  • Remind their child that everyone gets nervous when they go away to camp, especially if it’s their first time
  • Show confidence that they’ll enjoy their time away
  • Remind them about other new experiences they’ve overcome in the past
  • Find out how the camp deals with homesickness so you can be prepared
  • Provide your child with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes, pen, and paper so they can write home whenever they want
  • Provide lots of attention in the days preceding the separation
  • Make goodbyes short and to the point. Dragging them out can make both parties nervous and delay the possibility of moving past the anxiety.

In most cases, the above steps will go a long way in eliminating or reducing separation anxiety that arises before a sleep-away summer camp. In some situations, however, the anxiety may persist despite all efforts. In this instance, parents are encouraged to seek professional help, especially if the child’s symptoms have begun to interfere with their school performance or friends. For more information on summer camp separation anxiety, contact child anxiety therapist Dr. Andrew Rosen at 561-223-6568 today.

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