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Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Anxiety and Separation Problems. Sept, 2017.
Dear Kate:
I have a four-year old who is as cute as a button and his father and I love him to pieces. However, he's beginning to wear us down....
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Anxiety and Separation Problems in Young Children.


Because they have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and because their understanding of the world is limited, young children are very prone to developing fears.

Their vivid imaginations intensify these tendencies, with more imaginative children often being more prone to being fearful as a result. Young children also tend to express unidentifiable (to them) emotions symbolically, as fears of boogiemen and monsters. Genuine fears of separation based on reality (such as having a parent who works shifts) and developmental fear of the dark can combine to produce a child who is truly afraid of going to bed. Viewing television programs can disturb young children, even if the content seems harmless to parents. Characters with frightening faces, intense interpersonal conflict between characters, and even documentaries about natural disasters such as earthquakes, can frighten children as easily, and sometime even more than violent programs. Other common fears in young children are fear of doctors, dentists and immunizations, fear of animals (often dogs), fear of putting their heads under water and anxieties about new situations. The last example is greatly influenced by temperament, with slow-to-warm up or inhibited children being more prone to develop anxiety about starting day care or preschool.


Separation anxiety is a normal feature of development often reflecting a healthy attachment to parents. It may be more pronounced in children who are slow-to-warm-up or the term may be used incorrectly to account for slow-to-warm-up behavior. Children may also develop problems separating from parents when there is stress in the home or when the child has just undergone a stressful experience, such as hospitalization. Regardless of its basis, children having difficulty separating should be treated with empathy and with the expectation that they will overcome this difficulty in time. Families should avoid overprotection. A child will not lose separation anxiety by being removed from opportunities to experience separations. Instead, gradual approaches leading to small successes, desensitize the child and lead to a sense of mastery and accomplishment. Behavior modification methods, particularly the use of rewards, are very appropriate and often useful in helping children learn to separate successfully. However, although withdrawing attention from children when they are clinging and otherwise displaying shy behavior can be important in preventing them from using their shyness as a way to gain attention, children should not be punished for shy behavior with time-outs or other negative consequences.

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