Learning How To Cope With Separation Anxiety

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated March 31, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tanya Harell, LPC

Being a parent is tough and it can be even tougher to see your kids go through a hard time. Some kids wind up developing what is called separation anxiety disorder. This is a developmental stage that is normal for infants and toddlers. For the most part, kids are going to grow out of having separation anxiety disorder by the age of three. Some kids have issues for longer periods of time than this, but it shouldn’t be a major issue for too long. That doesn’t make it easier to deal with, though.

Many parents have a very difficult time coping with separation anxiety disorder. This problem could even make you feel like you can’t leave the house because your child might throw a tantrum due to being separated from you for even a very short period of time. You can deal with this issue in various ways, but sometimes the most difficult part is feeling guilty for making your child cry. Children with separation anxiety can become incredibly emotional and it’s tough to watch. How can you cope with separation anxiety disorder and what should you do in this situation?

When Children Can’t Cope with Parents Leaving

It’s very rough when your children can’t cope with you leaving the house. Some parents experience the impact of separation anxiety disorder when they have to leave for work in the morning. You need to go do your job but your young toddler simply doesn’t understand why you’re leaving them. If your kid is under three years old, then this is fairly normal and it’s something that they will grow out of. You still might notice your heart breaking a little bit each time your child cries when you try to leave the room, but you can get through this time.

There are some things that you can do to make things easier for yourself and your child as well. You can start practicing separation to get your child used to the idea of being away from you sometimes. This could mean sending your kid to spend time with grandparents for an hour or so. It could also mean taking turns with the other parent or having your child practice playing by themselves.

You’ll also have an easier time going about your day if you simply leave the house without making it a big deal. Some people make the mistake of going through a big goodbye ritual and this triggers the separation anxiety disorder to become worse. When the child starts to realize that you’re leaving, it’s going to be tougher for them to cope with it. If you just make it normal to leave and then come back, then your child might not have such severe separation anxiety disorder issues.

When Separation Anxiety Disorder Becomes a Big Problem for Kids

If your child is still dealing with separation anxiety disorder problems when they’re older, then that is problematic. Some kids might have a separation anxiety disorder for a little bit longer than usual, but kids who are six or seven shouldn’t normally be having issues. If your child’s issues go beyond what is normal for their developmental stage, then it might be time to seek professional help. Find a professional who can help you with an anxiety disorder in children.

Children with separation anxiety might need therapy of some kind to get through problems that they’re dealing with. They might have some extreme fear that has been instilled in them for a reason that isn’t apparent to you. Some children with separation anxiety might develop more severe issues due to having seen their parents go through a divorce. There are many possibilities and it would be best to work things out with a therapist who understands separation anxiety disorder.

Just know that children with separation anxiety can get better over time. This doesn’t have to become the norm for your household and you can get them to a point where they will feel better about things. It’s going to be tough on you as a parent to see your kids go through difficult emotional situations. Separation anxiety disorder will make you feel terrible at certain points in time, but you’ll have to make the right decisions for your kids. Remember that this isn’t an issue that needs to be dealt with alone and that professional help is available.

Coping with Parental Guilt

Coping with parental guilt is sometimes the toughest part of dealing with a normal separation anxiety disorder. If you just hate seeing your kid get upset when you walk out the door, then know that you’re not alone. Many parents face this problem and they all have their own ways of dealing with it. You might need to vent to your friends about what is going on to alleviate stress. Sometimes focusing on positive activities will help to boost your mental health. Try to ensure that you’re getting enough exercise and that you’re eating healthy meals. If you do that, along with getting enough sleep at night, then you’ll at least be equipped to deal with emotional situations properly.

Finally, you could talk to someone else who has been through the same thing. Your parents might have dealt with a separation anxiety disorder when you were younger. Some of your friends who have older kids might have some sound advice to give about separation anxiety disorder as well. Even just talking about things candidly might help you to deal with the situation better, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your support system if you need a little help.

Dealing with Separation Anxiety as an Adult

In rare cases, teenagers and adults can also be diagnosed with a separation anxiety disorder. This usually occurs due to some type of traumatic event. For example, someone could be faced with the death of a loved one and will have a very tough time accepting it. This could cause them to have a separation anxiety disorder and it could cause some to throw their life into upheaval. It’s possible to get through the illness and come out the other end okay. It’s just important to know that it takes time and that the symptoms can be quite problematic.

Adults with separation anxiety disorder will often experience extreme stress when they’re forced to be away from home or from a specific loved one. You might also experience extreme worry about losing a parent or another loved one. When you’re experiencing separation anxiety disorder, the fear that you’re experiencing isn’t necessarily going to be rational. You might be overly worried that your spouse will get in a car accident on the way to work or you could convince yourself that your parents are going to pass away if you don’t constantly check on them.

As mentioned earlier, separation anxiety disorder isn’t common in adults or teenagers. This usually happens when something occurs in someone’s life to trigger it. A traumatic event could cause someone to start excessively worrying about losing more people and this could have a domino effect. Some people experience nightmares about separation and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches could also be present. Separation anxiety disorder can manifest in many ways.

Coping with Separation Anxiety Disorder as an Adult

Coping with a separation anxiety disorder as an adult will involve improving your mental health. This disorder is something that can be treated in much the same way as depression or other types of anxiety. Anxiety disorders like this might be problematic, but you can get over it in time. You’ll likely want to talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing and you should also consider making lifestyle changes. Sometimes positive lifestyle changes can help you feel better mentally and your separation anxiety disorder will be substantially less severe as a result. Don’t be embarrassed if you have a separation anxiety disorder because it’s something that can be treated and there is a reason that you feel like you do.

Therapy Can Help

It might be helpful to seek out therapy if you’re really having issues. This could go one of two ways. You might need therapy because you’re very stressed out due to the separation anxiety disorder that you’re experiencing. Conversely, some people seek therapy for their children when they’re not growing out of the separation anxiety disorder phase. Either way, you should know that therapists can help you to get through this trying time. You don’t have to face things alone and therapists are used to helping people with complex issues like this.

Therapists have many coping skills that they can teach you that will make dealing with separation anxiety disorder more practical. You can learn to help your child if they’re having issues with separation anxiety disorder and they’ll have less extreme symptoms. Therapy is great for treating any anxiety disorder in children. If you’re the one who needs assistance, then the therapist will be there for you, too. This type of anxiety is treated in very similar ways to other types of anxiety. You can learn about how to cope with separation anxiety disorder while talking through issues that might be exacerbating your anxiety symptoms.

You can choose to go see a therapist in person or you could look into online therapy options. Online therapy is a convenient way to get help because you can talk to people from the comfort of home. For some people with separation anxiety disorder, it’s the most practical solution. Simply think about your situation and make whatever choice is going to be the most sensible for your family. You can cope with separation anxiety disorder and you can get back to feeling like your old self again. It might take time to completely alleviate the symptoms of separation anxiety, but you will be able to get there with the help of compassionate professionals. 

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