The most common, and most effective, separation anxiety treatment is cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. Other treatments that work with cognitive behavior therapy include family therapy, desensitization, talk therapy, and medication. It is important to note that medication should only be used in cases of extreme separation anxiety, and only in conjunction with other treatments. Before receiving treatment for separation anxiety, the child is diagnosed through a combination of information gathered from the home, school, and clinical visits.
Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy teaches important separation anxiety treatment skills such as how to recognize anxious feelings, and developing a plan to cope with them. The child learns how his physical feelings relate to his feelings of anxiety. The psychotherapist uses play therapy, modeling, relaxation therapy, and role-playing to teach the child effective coping methods for separation anxiety.
Family therapy is often used as part of separation anxiety treatment. Including parents and siblings in therapy sessions teaches everyone how to better deal with the affected child, and gets to specific issues that may be causing or worsening the child's anxiety. Therapy sessions that include the entire family also foster a feeling of teamwork within the group.
Desensitization is a separation anxiety treatment that involves introducing separation at a gradual pace, measuring the amount of time and distance involved in the separation. This allows the child to gradually become comfortable with the sensation of being separated. Deep breathing, biofeedback, and self-soothing techniques such as positive self talk also combine well with cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. Talk therapy gives the child an opportunity to talk about issues that bother him with someone trained to listen and respond in a helpful manner. Talk therapy does not replace more intensive cognitive behavioral therapy.
Children in need of separation anxiety treatment have several typical fears and concerns. They are afraid the separation will become permanent, they are afraid something will happen to those they love, or they experience nightmares about separation. Children with separation anxiety may become clingy, refuse to go to school, have trouble falling or staying asleep, and develop stomach or headaches in response to impending separation.
Parents can help their children by sending notes in lunchboxes, rewarding the child's efforts to separate smoothly, staying calm during the separation period, developing and maintaining routines, and encouraging social activities the child enjoys. Parents can also help by ensuring their own anxiety is under control. Sensitive children may absorb their parent's anxiety, making their problem worse.