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Separation Anxiety

Jul 31, 2008 05:00PM ● By Super Admin

Just three months ago, your child was still a child – just finishing high school and relying upon you for their basic needs.

But now, August is upon us, and it’s time to see your high school graduate off to start the great journey they call “college.” You may be anxious, and, despite their excitement, your teen may experience some unsettling feelings as well. Leaving for college is a time of transition and often, a time of great anxiety: separation anxiety.

Though separation anxiety first occurs in babies and toddlers, it can reoccur during major separation in adult life, such as leaving for college. “For college freshmen, separation anxiety is a very real concern,” says Karen Adrian, LMFT of El Dorado Hills. She also notes that although some students may acclimate quickly to their surroundings, others may experience intense anxiety that is difficult to manage.

Our experts say that feelings of separation anxiety are completely normal, and according to Tisa Starr, LMFT with offices in Auburn and Roseville, your teen may feel a mix of emotions. “The biggest time of individuation from parents is when a child leaves for college, and they realize ‘I am fully responsible for me now.’ That can be very frightening,” says Starr. Although students may grow excited as they prepare to leave, they may also feel a sense of loss. They realize, “My time of being a kid is over.”

“When you’re having that conversation of ‘goodbye,’ remind your child that this is an exciting time, but that it’s normal to feel a sense of loss when making a change. Try to normalize any feelings of separation anxiety but leave the door open so that if it gets excessive, the child knows to talk to you or seek help,” advises Andrea Orr, LMFT with a private practice in Roseville. “Open and honest discussion is important,” adds Adrian.

In the event that your teen experiences excessive anxiety, he or she may be experiencing separation anxiety disorder. In this case, students may need professional help, and they can make an appointment at their school counseling center for additional support.

Ultimately, the best way to deal with separation anxiety is to talk about it, Star advises the teens whom she works with. “Remember that everyone is probably feeling the same thing, so find someone to start a dialogue with so that you won’t feel so alone,” she says.

Experts suggest that parents do some of the following to help teens deal with normal levels of separation anxiety:
  • State your confidence in your teen’s ability to make it.
  • Encourage them to engage in activities that develop confidence, life skills and maturity.
  • Be available when your teen initiates phone calls to you.
  • Let them know that they are always welcome at home, but help them focus their time and energy on school.
  • Find resources to help you as a parent understand the situation. Orr recommends I’ll Miss You Too, by Margo Bane Woodacre and Steffanie Bane.
If your teen is not entirely open to talking about his or her anxiety, Sue Baldwin, LMFT of Cameron Park, encourages parents to look for signs. “Some frequent signs your child might be suffering from this disorder include sudden reluctance or change of heart about going away to school. Nightmares with separation themes or unreasonable fears of danger to their parents or other loved ones are some common symptoms. In addition, physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches or nausea may occur.” Baldwin goes on to say that, “this is the time when seeing a counselor would help the teen identify unconscious fears, begin to identify their strengths and regain their enthusiasm for this new adventure.”

Have a conversation with your teen before they go and acknowledge that anxiety is normal. Then, hug them goodbye and encourage them to move forward so that they can embark upon the great journey into adulthood.

For more parent resources related to teen separation anxiety, be sure to pick up this month's copy of Style-Folsom El Dorado Hills edition. Click on the "Get Your Copy" link on the bottom of this page for some of our newsstand locations. Or, to order a copy of this issue, please email Gloria Schroeder at [email protected], or call her at 916-988-9888 x116.