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Help! 7 year old seperation anxiety..

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 


DH and I are overwhelmed by the challenges that my son is having, and i think we need some perspective!


DS (7.5, 2nd grade, and an identical twin, with a newish baby sister (9 months)), normally a very confident, energetic, silly and active boy, is suddenly

-- and by suddenly i mean the change in his emotional state happened very suddenly, but it has now been going on for two full months-- is totally overwhelmed by anxiety.


He cries everyday before leaving the house, in the car on the way to school, and upon entering the classroom- if he makes it that far, often he can't and starts out the day in the administrator's office.

He's very clingy when we're out, is unwilling to enter certain situations (crowded restaurant, etc), has to know where we are at all times, is no longer comfortable being left with his grandparents, etc...


It's awful and i fear that the tearful and forced separations may be causing some added trauma, on top of the emotions that seem to be causing the anxiety in the first place.


We have seen the doctor to rule out lyme, and to look for other indicators of a physiological issue. Nothing came up.


We have been to a child and family counselor who encouraged us to reign in the activity level, make our lives very rhythmic and predictable, and give him extra one on one time. We've done those things.


For separations we have tried

a worry stone

rescue remedy

a watch, to know how long till we come (which ended up not being allowed in school, but i wonder if ultimately it would have just fed into his anxiety anyways).


I decided that i would be willing and able to pick him up from school at 1 instead of 3 (which is offered as an option for first and second graders at his school), which seemed to help him worry less, and because i see that he needs extra time at home/with us. But it certainly isn't a golden ticket, and he's still falling apart every morning.


He says that he misses us and doesn't want to be apart from us. I can see fear creep across his face as a separation comes closer. He is beginning to say things like "i hate school" which is super toxic for his poor twin brother, who is trying so hard to be strong.

My husband does drop off and is losing patience.

I just want to take the poor guy out of school, but i don't really think that's the issue.


We don't know what to do!


post #2 of 12

Poor kid!  It sounds like something's going on since it's so sudden.  Is he normally the kind of kid who will tell you if he has a worry?  I've had milder issues like this with DD, who is kind of reticent about talking about her worries, but can get worked up about them while she's bottling them up.  One time she got really upset about going to her grandparents', which had previously been fine.  Finally she revealed that she had fallen off a chair there or something, and was afraid it would happen again.  Once I told her grandma had thrown away the offending chair, everything was fine. 


I wonder if he heard something about a death or just realized the meaning of death and is anxious that you'll die out of his presence or something. 

post #3 of 12

anything going on in school? do you suspect any sort of bullying?


change in his diet? 


any changes in your family - including extended family - as pp pointed out death or illness?


i have to admit its unusual to see a 7 year old with this kind of sudden strong separation anxiety. 

post #4 of 12

I can't tell from your op - does he continue to see a therapist on his own to work on these issues? If not I would add that. There are some very effective and easy to implement ways to help him deal with anxiety. It doesn't mean he will be anxiety free or not have a hard time but it can lessen the effects and help him manage. If you learn the skills together you can give reminders and help him through the exercises.

post #5 of 12

Our DD went through severe separation anxiety particularly around school when she was 6.75. We worked with the school for a few weeks, then I pulled her out of school and we homeschooled. She also began working with a therapist. The therapist was in support of homeschooling, as its harder to work on anxiety issues when you are so overwhelmed by them you can't get a break. Anyway. initially I thought there must have been some traumatic event that we didn't know about (maybe something had happened at school?) but if there was, we never did find out what, and both mine and the therapist's opinion was that this was separation anxiety within the bounds of "normal" for the age. At 7.5 she chose to return to school. She also would not go to friends' houses that she had been going to for years unless I was with her, and would not go out with her Papa anymore, only with me. I really think that in her case, pulling her out of school and accommodating her desires to not be separated from me led to her the anxiety fading pretty quickly. Maybe it was because she realized she didn't have to fight us, the school, her friends, or anything else that was trying to get her to separate, and once she was able to see it as being completely under her control, she began to explore her own desires to separate.

post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your replies!

I just lost my long and thoughful post just before posting, grr.

But in short,

We don't know the root cause. Nothing has come to the surface.

Except i can trace back to a conversation he had with an uncle about "truth" which i think might have punctured his safe and dreamy childhood space suddenly. Maybe.

I think we need to keep seeing the therapist, we've only been once.

There haven't been any big changes or deaths this year, but he did hVe to make room for his new baby sister, which may be hardbecause he has always been theneedier and clingier child.

I don't hink it's got to do with what's going on for him at school, particularly, as it all began during summer vacation.

My heart tells me to take him out of school for now, and i really thank you for sharing your experience BellinghamCrunchy.
I really don't think that what i want to teach my child about fear is supress and push through!!
Ad yes, how can you work on healing when the stress ofseperation comes every day?
DH is very reluctant though, about homeschooling, so i have some work to do.
Maybe the therapist will back me up.

He went to school without tears today, but i could see the fear on his face and he needed about 100 more hugs and kisses, and he would have stayed if he could greensad.gifredface.gif

Thanks again everyone for your thoughts.
post #7 of 12

do you guys cosleep?


my dd has mild anxiety too, and we just stopped cosleeping on her 10th bday at her request. but i do end up falling asleep reading to her in her bed eyesroll.gif at least once a week.


dd is the combination of needy clingy as well as super independent. i think cosleeping with our bodies touching was a HUGE help to her. it was her therapist. 


and yes you can work on healing when the stress is there.


dd had to go to dc. every day for 3 years she didnt want to leave me - but she had to.


the things that worked for her is me spending time with her inthe morning. waking up earlier than usual so we snuggled in bed and did one fun thing before she went to dc. she still hated to go, BUT it felt better. however it was the parting. she loved dc and the ps time of it. it was play based adn they did lots of cool science experiments and art. 


she is not fond of school either and the first two years with the teachers permission she took at least 2 days off a month to just hang at home. 


i spent a lot of time when she was 2 talking to her (she is the thinker kind) telling her how i wish i could be with her too, but we just didnt have the choice. even today we cant hs either which she would prefer. i stayed positive. i also lived my life through words. so i'd tell her i really didnt want to do something, but i had to. and so she saw it was something i was struggling with too. all of that helped her. a lot. thankfully.


however she was sad but not withdrawn and depressed. if she had been that then it would have been a different story.

post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 

Good thoughts around Co-sleeping.


We don't anymore, but i had always "snuggled" them to sleep before the baby came. Since then it has been less frequent that i get there before he is asleep, but i know he wants that physical closeness, and i think it does help him.

I believe that some of his falling apart has been a delayed response to the displacement he feels around having a baby sibling. We now try to give him lots of physical closeness, some babying when it's appropriate, and focused one on one time.
I think it's helping.


And yes, absolutely we can work on healing even when the stress is coming everyday.

In the end, i am on board with schooling and doubt that we will HS. I guess i am honoring the protective/ safe-haven impulse in me as a mother by acknowledging my desire to homeschool. I think it could be the right thing for him, but probably not the right thing for the rest of us as a family, and we really have to weigh that. 

post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 

I struggle with the concept of independence because i feel that historically it has been over emphasized in our culture at too young an age (see: The Continuum Concept, Our Babies Ourselves, etc).


I second guess the wisdom of encouraging him to push through his fear and go to school, because i can't untangle whether that might *actually* help him build resilience and self-confidence and strength of character, or whether those are just the stories our culture has told us.


I don't want my children to learn to suppress their feelings and i don't want DS to bury his need for his mother's closeness.

But i also want him to feel capable of managing anxiety by by moving through it.

post #10 of 12
His uncle may have talked about death as well as truth, letting him know you will die someday. My son was very attached to me, and my parents apparently decided to 'help' him separate by telling him I would die someday. It can be traumatic for a needy child. I would talk about the uncle, saying that he's always telling folks things to stir up trouble, just because he thinks it's funny, and that makes you angry (causing needless worry). If the uncle is actually innocent, you can applogize later.
post #11 of 12

I just wanted to reply to say that my 7yo dd is going through a similar period, although she doesn't have the same separation anxiety, she is dealing with a whole pile of worries that are just overwhelming to her - mostly about either my death or hers. This is a really typical age for kids to start having an awareness of death and mortality, and whether or not his uncle spoke about that he would be beginning to have these thoughts anyway. Some kids are perhaps a bit further ahead intellectually than they are emotionally and all this information is really difficult to assimilate. It makes me so sad for my dd to see her suffering, but I keep telling her that:

  1. her thoughts are really normal, and age typical
  2. that her Dad and I are here to help her grow up and that we take excellent care of ourselves
  3. as she gets older it will become easier to deal with these kind of thoughts.


I don't know if this is the "right" message, but it seems to help a bit. I may also take her to a play therapist if it doesn't ease up. Right now she has near panic attacks most nights and it's breaking my heart. I think she's just an anxious kid and I'll do whatever I can to help her develop the skills she needs to cope as she grows up, because I fear this anxiety is not likely to go away.

post #12 of 12

I agree it sounds like something is going on at school or somewhere since it was so sudden.


It could be as simple as someone saying somethign to him. or a classmate that lost their parent. How far away from the school do you live?  Is there a way he could use a phone to call you a few times throughout the day to check on you guys?

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