Separation Anxiety

Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 07:29 pm
I'm interested in learning more about separation axienty in children.

I posted this in "medical and health" specifically because I'm more interested in the real phsychological reasons, the whys and wherefores, than the typical stuff I'm finding on parenting sites on the internet.

On those sites the typical advice seems to deal with normal kids from normal environments.

I'm more interested in it from a standpoint of foster care, or guardianship, or having a parent die, or disappear, or other abnormal situations. Situations where a child has really suffered from a serious separation - not a separation like going to preschool or spending time with a baby sitter.

If you can steer me to some information, or inform me from your experience as a teacher, social worker, mental health worker, foster parent, child care worker, whatever, I would most certainly appreciate it.

Thank you!
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 07:32 pm
Wish I could help....
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 07:35 pm
I have my big "Child Development" textbook open in front of me, haven't found a hook in the index yet.

One thing I'd say off the top of my head is that I think the approach and solutions are largely the same, no matter what the cause.

I'm going to look more though.
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 07:48 pm
Did Mo have a definite good-bye with his parents, and then with his grandparents? Or did it all kind of gradually morph from one thing to another?

A passage which may or may not be useful:

    [i]3The phase of "clear-cut" attachment[/i] (6-8 months to 18 months-2 years). Now attachment to the familiar caregiver is evident Babies of this period show separation anxiety, in that they become very upset when the adult on whom they have come to rely leaves. Separation anxiety appears universally around the world after 6 months of age, increasing until about 15 months. Its appearance suggests that infants have a clear understanding that the parent continues to exist when not in view. Consistent with this idea, babies who have not yet mastered Piagetian object permanence usually do not become anxious when separated from their mothers. Babies proteting the parent's departure, older infants and toddlers act more deliberately to maintain her presence. They approach, follow, and climb on her in preference to others. And they use her as a secure base from whih to explore, venturing into the environment and then returning for emotional support, as we indicated earlier in this chapter. [i]4. Formation of a reciprocal relationship (18 months to 2 years and on.) By the ed of the second year, rapid growth in representation and language permits toddlers to understand some of the factors that influence the parent's coming and going and to predict her return. As a result, separation protest declines. Now children start to negotiate with the caregiver, using requests and persuasion to alter her goals rather than crawling after and clinging to her. Understanding....

I'm needed, will continue later rather than risking losing what I've already typed.
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 07:51 pm
When i was working alot in nursing homes , I saw alot of children watch thier grandparents die. Many were dying from alzheimers, wich was sad because they didnt know thier grandchildren anymore and couldnt say goodbye.
One of the common themes I saw in these children is the fear of doing ' wrong'. They thought that they did something wrong to bring about the death and that if they did ' right' grammy / grandpa would come back.

Im sure you have read that on the parenting sights, but if you havent.. that may help you somewhat.
i wish I could help more, but I have had little interaction with children in my career and I dont know any other sites ( too bad there isnt a sozobe . com ;-) ) to steer you twords.
good luck in your search and I hope you find what you need. :-)
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 08:39 pm
Hi all and thank you!

I guess what I'm trying to get at is the difference between kids who learn....

That mom/dad is coming back to get me.

That mom/dad may show up eventually.

That mom/dad aren't coming back ever.

I've had some strange things happen with Mo over time and had some other personal things regarding this on my mind lately and my curiousity is aroused.

Mr. B and I have lately been discussing Mo's refrain: "I want to stay with you" and that prompts this discussion too.

He says this twenty times a day - unpromted, unbidden - we don't know where it comes from - or why it bears such repitition.

I have read only briefly about separation anxiety in situations outside the norm (in "Mothering Without A Map", most recently) but even there it really skimmed the surface.

My internet searches really lead to more typical things - preschool and such - not constant loss.

I'm not necessarily looking at this in the context of me and my situation but in a broader sense.
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 08:48 pm
boomerang wrote:

Mr. B and I have lately been discussing Mo's refrain: "I want to stay with you" and that prompts this discussion too.

He says this twenty times a day - unpromted, unbidden - we don't know where it comes from - or why it bears such repitition.

Boomer, how many times have you posted here - concerned about the possibility of losing Mo?

You're afraid of losing him.
He's afraid of losing you.

You can post here. You can talk to your family. You can talk to friends/colleagues.

Who does Mo have to talk to his concerns about? You.

I'd be surprised if there weren't quite a few studies on the experience/behaviour/development of children of divorce who have limited contact with non-custodial parents/grands. <mulling on key words>
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 09:13 pm
It is interesting (and very perceptive) that you posted that ebeth.

This "I want to stay with you" thing started a few months ago - right around the holidays where Mo's family was thick and attentive.

I have examined my own behavior under a microscope to be sure that I am not sending a message that our relationship is unstable in any way.

The only place I might fault myself is in being "excited" when someone from his family is coming to see him.

And I've wondered if my "excitement" is somehow read by him as a brush off.

When he says this to me and Mr. B our agreed upon response is to tell him how we really want him to stay with us, etc. etc. etc.

It is hard to delve into the mind of a four year old and determine what is important and what is just blabber.

All of the parents here, just exactly like the ones on this thread (soz, sozlet, shewolf, bean) seem to have such a handle on each other.

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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 09:29 pm

I worry that you too readily blame yourself for something which is beyond your control. I think ehBeth has a great point, that however 4-year-olds process, he does have something to process.

Your challenge is that you not only have to step into parenting like all the rest of us do when a newborn baby is thrust into our arms, but that you have to step into parenting a child who has his own history and demons. As in, we had no idea what we were doing on day one, but there were things we didn't have to worry about that you do.

There isn't a sozobe.com but parenting advice wise there might as well be, askdrsears.com. I have asked for advice and actually gotten it, personalized, useful, free advice.

The conclusion of the passage I was typing, and what sparked my question, was this:

    understanding and trying to modify the mother's goals requires a beginning ability to see things from another's perspective. Children start to develop this capacity during the early preschool years, but parents can foster it by clarifying their goals to children. In one study, mothers who explained to their 2-year-olds that they were leaving and would return soon and who also suggested something for the child to do in the meantime ("build me a house with Tinkertoys while I'm gone") had children who took the separation well. In contrast, 20-year-olds whose mothers "slipped out" without giving advance warning were likely to become very upset.

So I ask in terms of, if he was never told specifically, "we're leaving and we're not coming back", he may have a hard time believing your protestations that you won't be leaving. If so, it seems like the thing to do is just keep being reassuring, and time will tell.

This is beyond my experience and knowledge though, nothing to take too seriously. I'd suggest contacting the askdrsears website for advice or at the very least a lead on where you can get the advice.
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 10:10 pm
This seems to have some interesting/ pertinent elements, though in more pathological terms than may apply for you guys:


Oh, it won't let me copy and paste. Phooey. It seems like Mo might have some of the elements of disinhibited RAD, and that you guys being a secure attachment for him now is the best possible thing. (I mean duh, but.) The "Treatment" part at the bottom seems to indicate that you are doing exactly what you should be doing. The part starting with "sensitivity, or emotional availability" seems especially apropos.

Here's how to contact the sears website:

[email protected]

This page gives more details on process:


Finally, an unformed thought that I'm trying to form... will blather and see if it goes anywhere. Did you see the question from _heatwave_ about porn and her relationship with her husband? Nimh had a great response about porn being a red herring.

Mo's history is far from a red herring, he has an actual history that actually has to be taken into account and that no doubt actually affects him, nothing to be discounted by a long shot. But I worry that you are focusing on that to the extent of not letting your (truly stellar) instincts shine through. I'm worried that you're second-guessing yourself too much.

Parenting is just plain tough, and it's pleasanter to record the fun and sweet stuff for posterity, but that doesn't mean it's the whole story. My kid is jaw-droppingly frustrating often, (especially when she's been sick too much and home too much and we're both bored and getting on each others' nerves, grrr), and I can guess and follow my instincts but I can also see how easy it would be if there were some THING that could account for her more mysterious behavior to focus on that THING. But the fact is that even without a thing she has plenty of mysterious behavior.

Hmm, didn't quite get where I hoped to go.

Bottom line, I think you're doing a stupendous job, and I think one aspect of the stupendousness is your ability to open up and make yourself vulnerable, not just in the obvious ways but in so consciously examining your own parenting and your willingness to adjust if need be.
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 10:18 pm
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 09:05 am
Thank you soz, for the info, the links and the vote of confidence. I will be reading through all of it.

Mo's due for his four year checkup and I think I will talk to his doctor again about counseling.

I noticed the info you typed in referred to two year olds and that developmental stage. Mo moved in here right before his second birthday. We went from a pattern of visit - get picked up by parents to visit and not get picked up by parents at that time. Now, two years later we are at firmly living here with these people popping in now and then.

Maybe I do read too much into his behavior that seems to relate to such things but I would rather be safe than sorry.

Separation anxiety might not even be the right term.

Okay, here is a real recent example:

Yesterday Mo's mom and her boyfriend stop by to show off their new car. They want to take Mo to the car wash with them and then maybe to the park. Just hang out for a bit.

Ten minutes after they leave I hear the front door being flung open and Mo runs in yelling "Mommy, I'm home! I'm home!" Then he hides behind me and won't look at either of them.

Over the past few months I've seen a glimmer of such things but this was really a big shift in his reaction to them.

So big, I guess, that it really seems signifigant.
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 09:22 am
My totally layperson reaction to that, based in part on the article I found, is that it indicates a (positive) milestone in his development, his concept of you as the primary attachment. Not that a few people are equal as caretakers, but that one is primary. That's good.

I really think that counseling is one of those things that is as valuable as an "official" reassurance that you're doing the right thing as a way to get new ideas for what to do.

Also might give you some "official" ammunition in dealing with his mom in that sort of situation. "Sorry, we'd love to see you but we're going to have to be a little more structured about it. Mo is doing great, but our counselor says that it really throws him for a loop if you guys just stop by with no warning. How about if we..." A way to take a little more control over these things.
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 09:48 am
"Instead of caution, excessive familiarity or psychological promiscuousness with unknown persons."

That quote is from the emedicine link.

I recognize such behaviors in Mo but not so much the other things they listed.

I'm hoping that his reaction is positive, milestone or not.

And yes, "official" backup would be helpful in setting limits.

Off to read more.....

Thanks again, soz.
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 10:01 am
I'm thinking "attachment disorder" might be a better phrase than "separation anxiety" for what I'm looking for info on.

Thanks for the clue, soz!
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Debra Law
Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 10:01 am
Separation Anxiety Disorder is usually connected to a phobia.

Is it possible for you and Mr. B to arrange an open adoption in order to give Little Mo more security in his parenting relationship with you?
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 10:05 am
We are certainly working towards that direction, Debra. We hope that adoption will be the final result.

Currently we are his "psychological parents" - a legal designation in Oregon that is like a step beyond "guardians".
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 10:12 am
I think so, too!

That article is long but in the "treatment" part and "causes" part seems to have a lot that applies.

I'll go ahead and write out (I mean I know you'll get there, but...)

    Causes: [first some about inhibited RAD, which doesn't apply as well]
  • Disinhibited RAD: Promiscuous or disinhibited attachment disorders have a phenomenology opposite that of inhibited attachment disorders. This is the most common kind of attachment distrubance in clinical settings. Many children with this condition have been placed in multiple foster homes or have lived with different relatives; their parents are unable to create a sense of permanancy in their lives. Many of the parents experience legal problems, engage in illegal drug use, abuse alcohol, or have personality disturbances, which make them unable to provide stability for the child.

    • Multiple caregivers sequentially or concurrently
    • Multiple disruptions in attachment relationships
    • Several changes in foster home placement

  • Risk factors: Risk factors are the same as those associated with poor parenting, maltreatment, and neglect. A number of psychosocial factors place some children at particular risk, such as caregivers who abuse drugs, have multiple unmanageable stressors, or have been maltreated or have experienced multiple attachment disruptions themselves.
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 10:13 am
(Er, "I think so too!" was re: "attachment disorder" vs. "separation anxiety".)
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 10:18 am
From that article I'd say he may be (have, whatever) mild disinhibited RAD, and is coming through that now in taking some developmental steps to identify you as the primary attachment.

Again, all layperson!!!

Interested in dlowan's take.

And counseling does sound better and better, if only for peace of mind.
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