Separation Anxiety in a 5 year old - Mothering Forums
The Childhood Years > Separation Anxiety in a 5 year old
sunshadow's Avatar sunshadow 11:08 PM 07-26-2012

I haven't spent much time on lately, but when I have something that's really bothering me I always find good information here.  I am hoping someone can help guide me in helping my 5 year old daughter, or will tell me I don't need to worry! 


My daughter has started exhibition some behaviors that have worried me enough to call her pediatrician.  When I talked to the nurse there over the phone he said it sounded like Separation Anxiety, which really surprised me because I've never had a problem dropping her off at preschool, a friends house, or any classes. The nurse said I should come in and talk to her pediatrician and she would probably need a psych evaluation. I ended up cancelling that appointment. I am not sure why. I guess I am afraid of her having  to go talk to someone and making this some big deal in her mind.


The first thing that she started doing that worried me was saving candy wrappers and tags from clothing. She did that for awhile and then she stopped it, for the most part. I never made a big deal about it. I gave her a treasure box to put those things into.  Then a couple months ago she started a new behavior that seems to be related. She refused to wear her hair back for swim lessons for fear of losing the hair band. She had a completely meltdown when she accidentally wore one in the pool one time. I've tried giving her just cheap plain rubber bands, one of my hair bands, asking her to wear one for one dunk in the water and then take it out. She has refused it all. Just me asking her to try results in tears and her proclaiming she will never learn to swim if she has to wear her hair back. She is also afraid of things flying away. If she takes her shoes off at the park I have to hold them, even if there is no wind. At the parade last night a clown tried to make her a balloon animal, but she refused it because she didn't want something that would pop. Her brother accidentally flushed a cloth wipe down the toilet and you would have thought he flushed a cat down by the way she screamed. I could go on and on.  She would rather not enjoy having something that would bring other children happiness because the idea of losing it is too traumatizing to her.  I've had other parents say that this is most likely just a phase and I wonder if I am just making a bigger deal out of it than it is. I just hate to see her so upset.


I guess my question is, does this sound like a normal phase for a 5 year old, or should I go ahead and pursue having her evaluated?  Thanks for any input!

grumpybear's Avatar grumpybear 12:09 AM 07-27-2012

Not sure if it is normal but what you are describing sounds a bit like my 6y.o. DS lately, where everything is a big deal. Losing things are also a biggie for him lately. He refuses to bring toys to any playdates for fear of losing them. And when we do, oh boy, he HAS to find every single one. Even the ones he doesn't really care for.

I'm not sure if I am reading him correctly but I think for DS, he is just really learning to explore what he can and cannot control. Now is the time where they realize that they feel they can control everything and when they are unable to, it is hard for them to handle so they tend to go to an extreme.

But, like I said, I'm not sure. Hoping somone would chime in too.

pek64's Avatar pek64 07:35 AM 07-27-2012
Sounds more like OCD than separation anxiety to me.
SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 09:08 AM 07-27-2012

The behavior in and of itself is normal.  Doesn't mean the intensity your daughter is experiencing is normal, but the fear of losing something in the way you've described is normal.  


My daughter is similar, though far less intense than yours.  It started at about 4something and I attributed it to the blossoming of her imagination--imagining all the possibilities suddenly and it's a bit scary sometimes.  Also, there is still a wide divide between their imagination of what's possible and the laws of physics.  Of course, as an adult you know that barring hurricane force wind, that shoe is staying put.  But, just as she did when she was a baby dropping dropping dropping stuff from the high chair to see if the same thing happened every time, she is still discovering the things you take for granted.


It is frustrating.  DD had a long round of tears when we couldn't find a plastic shard from a broken plastic box.  That is one example in a string of similar events.  I had to hold on to balloons for months to assure her I wasn't intending to throw it away.  She is nearly 6 now, and this is fading, though she still hangs on to things far more than her sister.  I was something like her as a child (perhaps not so *extreme*) so I could sympathize with her desperation to hang on to stuff and I tried not to make a problem of it.  Like your daughter, she has treasure boxes large and small.  One is filled with Christmas tree needles.


It could be OCD, it could be extreme enough to be outside the range of normal.  But it doesn't sound so troublesome that I, personally, wouldn't wait for a while to see what becomes of this.  And just because she doesn't show any signs of separation anxiety when she is dropped off for preschool, it doesn't mean this behavior is unrelated.  It could be displacement of her anxiety, so I wouldn't discount the ped's guess.


I understand your caution at making this into a clinical problem.


BTW, I tell my girls that if they don't want to use hair bands or barrettes for gymnastics, swimming etc. they need to have their hair cut appropriately.  We cut bangs short because they don't like barrettes, but they decided to keep their hair longer in the back.

sunshadow's Avatar sunshadow 11:56 PM 07-27-2012

Thanks for the replies. Bringing up the idea of learning about what they can control and cannot really makes sense to me as well as the fact that she doesn't really understand about forces in nature, like the wind and water. She will hopefully learn in time that these things are not going to whisk away her possessions. I too wondered about OCD, but she doesn't seem to exhibit any other OCD tendencies, not that it isn't a possibility. I had read something prior to calling the nurse that had stated fear of losing things can be a symptoms of separation anxiety, so I just accept that as a possibility, but I am not ruling anything out. I am going to keep an eye on her and see if this might start to show signs of improvment on their own. I was happy today that she left her shoes out without questioning them, but she did worry about a small bag getting blown away. Maybe she has learned that shoes are too heavy and that means she will figure this all out herself, with some guidance. Also, she got her bangs trimmed last week so we no longer had to think about wearing her hair back, and that was her idea. A part of me worries because I had the same sort of anxieties as a kid and I am not sure I outgrew them all! I just want to help her, I guess in a way that I never was, to make sure she can deal with these things. I just don't know how much I am projecting my issues and how much of it is really no concern.

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 10:30 AM 07-28-2012
Originally Posted by sunshadow View Post

 I just don't know how much I am projecting my issues and how much of it is really no concern.

That you are paying attention to this particular question is an excellent start.