Some of the symptoms shown by a young child separated from a parent

Psychiatrists have specific benchmarks in diagnosing the child’s anxiety when they are separated from their parents (called attachment figures in psychological terminology). When three or more of the following criteria (at the time of writing) are present (plus some other conditions) they label it as a ‘disorder’ –
1. Recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.
2. Persistent and excessive worry about losing or about possible harm befalling major attachment figures.
3. Persistent and excessive worry that an untoward event will lead to separation from a major attachment figure (e.g. being lost or being kidnapped).
4. Persistent reluctance or refusal to go anywhere because of fear of separation.
5. Persistently and excessively fearful or reluctant to be alone or without major attachment figures at home or without significant adults in other settings.
6. Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home.
7. Repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation.
8. Repeated complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches nausea or vomiting, when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.

If less than three of these criteria is not present, then the child may not be labelled as having a disorder, but is probably suffering from separation anxiety. According to Dr Ivor Browne the death of a parent, when the child is young, may intensify the relationship with the remaining parent and lead to separation difficulties in adult life. In many ways, life is about separation and is based upon independence, the building of good boundaries and a sense of self, (boundaries are explained in more detail in the final chapter of this book). Proper separation brings self-esteem (feeling good enough), the capacity to self-soothe and a sense of meaning in your life. The opposite of separation is over involvement, possible enmeshment, feeling overwhelmed, fear and anger.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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