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Separation Anxiety

Up until recently, my daughter who just turned 8 (2nd grade) has been a very well adjusted, happy little girl (albeit a little shy).  When she recently returned from the holiday break, she started complaining from frequent headaches and stomach aches - mostly at bedtime and before school.  Then she justs starts crying for reasons she can't explain.  After a visit to the doctor and many hours of research on the internet, I've come to the conclusion that this is Separation Anxiety.  There is a stong history of axiety issues on both sides of our family, so I have half expected this day to come.  However, this just seems awfully young for such strong emotions.  I realize she may need to be on some type of medication some day, but we want that to be a last resort.  Any tricks, tips, suggestions, or ideas to ease her mind would be greatly appreciated!
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Avatar universal
Usually the tricks, tips, suggestions or ideas will not work unless the anxiety is lessened.  Often the only way to do this is through medication.    I'm not saying this is the answer for your daughter - what did your doctor say?  If there was no "plan of action", I would ask for a referral to a person with experience in anxiety disorders or a child neurologist or a child psychiatrist or child psychologist.  It usually takes a team-approach involving the parents, medical personnel and school instructors to "teach" a child how to manage his/her fears.  Treatment is often a multi-modal approach involving intervention, therapy and possibly medication.  If your child is severe in her anxiety, I suspect you will not be able to do this alone.  Treatment can last years.

By the way, after a relaxing holiday (even a week-end), children often have a difficult time re-adjusting to the perceived "unsafe" school environment.  Summer and Christmas vacations are especially difficult.  Our own child was diagnosed at four years of age with severe anxiety and was placed on medication at six years of  age as there were no other avenues left.  We noticed anxiety-related symptoms within hours of her birth (of course, at the time we did not understand what we were observing).  Anxiety is a disorder that is highly treatable and the prognosis is excellent for early intervention.  Your daughter will need help in learning how to manage her fears; she will not outgrow her anxiety nor will it go away.  Hope this helps -
Avatar universal
Thanks for the reply.  I'm no stanger to anxiety as I take meds with a laundry list of problems myself (which I mask from my children of course).
My questions now are how to handle this.  Specifically (if I may ask), what were your first steps in dissecting this problem?  I question whether a psycologist would be able to get through to her at this this young age (as I said she is very shy) - in fact I'm afraid it could only add to the problem.  
When your child was young, did you explain to her/him that they had anxiety?  Does this put a "label" in their head?  Does it give them a sense of alienation?  Did your child work with a psycologist and if so, successfully?  At what point did you decide the meds were going to be a necessity?  
As you can tell, this is giving my wife and I anxiety as well, but we are careful not to show her (now, anyway).  We have both walked in her shoes and know all to well what she is going through.  If she were more mature, I would be much more comfortable in explaining and helping her along, but I just don't know how much is too much at this fragile age.

Thanks for all your information.
Avatar universal
Our granddaughter was five when she first saw her child psychiatrist.  Anxiety is not a "problem"; but a mental health physical issue due in part to the over-stimulation of the amygdala (an almond-sized brain structure linked with a person's mental and emotional state).  You probably have figured out that anxiety is an inherited trait.  Our granddaughter was so shy she could not function, eat, interact, or even speak in social situations.  The psychiatrist told her what she had (Selective Mutism) and that she was going to help her.  The psychiatrist also did not keep anything from our granddaughter - what is said in this room is said to everyone and that included her three-year old brother.  The doctor  said "not knowing" is worse than "knowing".  Our granddaughter was so ecstatic at finally finding someone who could help her.  It was the first step in her recovery and our son (who did not believe in mental health professionals) said it was the best thing they ever did for her.  Believe me, the label our granddaughter had in her head was far worse than the one the doctor gave her (she was also diagnosed with depression and it appears your daughter may also suffer from this disorder).  And being a retired teacher - the "label" the school gives her (albeit informally) will be worse than the correct medical label.

The psychiatrist gave her parents tools with which to help her - simple things like forcing her to look into their eyes when talking to her, etc.  She had an assignment for each visit (monthly) and these tasks helped her socially.  Our granddaughter was so relieved to hear that there were other children just like her; in fact, her parents attended a summer picnic with other sm children.  This was major - for both her parents as well as our granddaughter.

She saw the in-take psychologist one time because once we had the "tools" we did not need to visit him again.  Of course, the "tools" vary from child to child; this is why one usually requires professional help.  I belong to a support group for parents and teachers of children suffering from anxiety and frankly, we consider eight quite old to be starting treatment.  Most of our children are pre-school age.  We have been recently involved in a research project in our country and the consensus is that "the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment, the better the prognosis.  Our local professionals have had very little success with the treatment of the teenagers involved in the study.  In our case, treatment was multi-modal - intervention, constant socialization, therapy and medication.  Meds were introduced when we finally "hit the wall" and was making no more progress.  In our group, less than one-half of our children require medication.

Why are you "masking" this issue from your daughter?  Anxiety is not something of which to be ashamed but fears that need to be managed.  We talk about this point a lot in our group and we find that being "open" tends to be the best way.  It does appear as if your daughter is not as severe in her anxiety as our granddaughter so why not get help as soon as possible? If the first medical person is not able to help, then seek out another.  If your daughter had a broken leg, wouldn't you take her to the doctor to get it fixed?  Anyway, just my two cents - I wish you the best -
Avatar universal
Thank you for all the information you have provided.  I suspect you are right about the depression as it runs strong in my family.  I can appreciate your suggestion to get help as soon as possible - believe me I only have the best intentions for her.  

When I was young, I suffered through it, because this kind of thing just wasn't talked about or even considered a problem with kids.  Well - I'm living proof that it is a problem if not dealt with.  However, I've come to the thought that there is some good in the struggle.  I'm not suggesting no treatment, but I am hesitant to bombard her with therapy (or more importantly meds).  I sometimes wonder, if I had been treated as a young person, would I possess the survival skills that I have today.  That statement may sound silly and minimal to a person who doesn't understand anxiety, but those with first hand knowledge would know what I am talking about.

Really, we (as a society) only just started treating this whole anxiety, depression, ADD thing in kids within the last 15 years or so.  And to be honest, I'm pretty sure we don't have it all figured out.  You have doctors/therapists quick to treat symptoms of which they don't have the first clue (only a textbook definition).  I have OCD, and I can tell you, after seeing a few therapists (and MDs) in my day, these people don't have a clue of what they are dealing with. There may be a few, but good luck with that lottery.  My point is, we don't know what the long term effects are from these new found therapy techniques.  

Anyway, I just wanted to explain my hesitation as I don't think this is anything like a broken leg.  Doctors know conclusively how to mend a broken leg.  We are kidding ourselves if we think doctors conclusively know how to mend a broken mind.  I suspect we are ages away from that kind of knowledge.  That being said, I'm just trying to find the best treatment possible that makes sense.  Lastly, as harsh as it make sound I have run into too make twenty-somethings that use their "labels" to get out of doing things because that's all they were ever told.  Honestly, to make a statement that I am not interested in getting help for my daughter and as soon as possible is a bit upsetting to me, but I sense you had no intention to offend.  

May I ask how long it's been since your granddaughter has been in therapy and what kind of "maintenance" she is involved with now?
Avatar universal
Actually therapy was quite short - about six months whereby an art therapist taught her how to interact socially without annoying her peers - this was during her Grade 2 year (she is now in Grade 7) . Anxious children do not have age-appropriate social skills and she was so ready to learn.  At the time, I did not believe this as our grandchild was over-socialized, but it was true.  There was no therapy re "managing her fears" although a couple of children from our group did take an "stop the anxiety/worrying workshop" with a local psychologist for about 10 weeks.  Maintenance - just a low dose of a SSRI which I feel she might be taking the rest of her life.  She is in contact with her psychiatrist once a year to get the prescription renewed.  Other than that - really nothing.  I expect she may need some help with "fears" when she hits secondary school or puberty, but so far, nothing else.  By the way, her mother also has been diagnosed with OCD so your plight is not new to us.  That is why many friends and relatives helped with the over-socialization process as it was too intense for our DIL.    

One of my closest friends suffered from sm and severe social anxiety as a child, teen and young adult.  But, when her daughter started to exhibit the same behaviours she had as a child, she knew it was time she did something about her own anxieties so that she could help her daughter.  She is the one who "leads" our support group. I'm going to post the address of an article that was published in our local newspaper and then posted on the internet -
http://www.selectivemutism.org/walloffear.htm  - feel free to telephone her if you wish as the number is listed below the article.  She has had calls from around the world - her passion is to help children to not suffer as she did.

I did not mean to offend you - just jolt you into action.  We have had several teenagers in our group and they have so much more difficulty coping with their disorder than the little ones.  The prognosis is no where as good for them; one beautiful, intelligent, young lady in our group has now turned into an agoraphobic at 20 years of age.  How  sad!  Her parents did not believe in therapy, intervention nor medication.

As for finding the correct help, it sometimes takes a lot of looking,  luck, and trial and error.  But, wherever you live, I'm sure there is someone within driving distance who has experience in anxiety disorders or experience in working with children.  Any more questions - please write if you think that I might be able to help - wishing you the best -
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