Separation anxiety is defined as the inability of the person to leave the person or home, or the intense anxiety and restlessness when away from home or from the person. This disorder is seen in children as clinging to the mother or primary caregiver, and crying attacks when away from the mother. When these children reach school age, they may show adaptation problems to school. Children with separation anxiety may miss out on school in the morning, refuse school because they are sick, experience somatic symptoms due to school stress, and may indeed experience nausea, stomachaches, and headaches and be absent. This disorder can also be seen as truancy from school in high school adolescents.
Separation anxiety is based on Attachment Theory. Attachment theory is the trusting bond between mother and baby. In the first two years from birth, the baby is completely dependent on the mother; It needs its mother to protect itself from dangers and survive. In this period, it is essential for the mother to meet the vital needs of the baby and to provide a warm and safe environment for the formation of a secure attachment. In secure attachment, the baby knows that he will be fed when he is hungry, he will be cared for when he cries, and he will be protected from dangers.
This is the first and most important step in the child’s confidence in the outside world and in himself in the future. Because secure attachment provides a safe environment away from the dangers that the child needs while discovering life and himself. Thus, the child can calmly examine the outside world, learn through exploration and observation, and receive useful feedback from the mother.
Children who are securely attached to their mothers become restless when their mothers leave the room; They also show joy when the mother comes back. Older children, on the other hand, may calm themselves down by thinking that the mother will definitely return, even if they are uneasy. This is the biggest distinguisher of secure attachment.
Separation anxiety is also frequently seen in situations where there is no secure attachment, and the child is attached to his caregiver in infancy in an anxious and insecure way. Apart from this, excessively anxious / pessimistic / protective parental attitudes, inconsistent care or warmth towards the child, being apart for a long time in infancy, and separation-themed traumatic experiences in childhood can also cause separation anxiety.
Although school refusal is common in separation anxiety, it is more prominent that the child cannot be separated from the mother. Studies suggest that the basis of school refusal in separation anxiety is the child’s inability to bear being in a separate environment from their mother rather than their unwillingness to go to school. For this reason, even if children go to school, they demand that their mothers wait for them until school is over, and stand in a place where they can see them when they look out the window. At a later age, they cannot get away from their mothers because they are worried that their mother may be harmed in an environment where they are not present, and they have difficulty in going to school on their own.
In order to prevent separation anxiety, it is essential to establish a secure attachment with the baby between the ages of 0-2. Likewise, a reassuring and warm attitude should be maintained during weaning and toilet training, but at the same time the boundaries should be set consistently and clearly. The child should be given age-appropriate tasks and encouraged to do these tasks alone.
Overprotective behavior should not be done, the child should be allowed to explore and make mistakes; As she explores and plays, it must be ensured that the mother knows that she will do whatever is necessary to keep her safe and that if she leaves, she will come back.
Prolonged separations should be avoided in the critical age range (0-2); but it is also very important to prepare the child for school after the age of 2 with short separations (such as leaving the child with a caregiver for a certain time in accordance with his age). Gradual exposure and family therapy in children with anxiety; Cognitive behavioral therapy is also very beneficial for adolescents with absenteeism and adjustment problems.