Sally is a three year old. Whenever Sally’s mother has attempted to leave Sally with friend or relative, Sally has screamed and clung to her mother and seemed terrified at the prospect. Sally’s mother has given in and has not left her since she was born. Sally’s mother is now thinking about starting a course at university. This will involve her being away from Sally for a morning. Sally’s grandmother has offered to look after Sally while her mum is at University. Sally’s mum really wants to do this course but doesn’t know how she will manage Sally.
This paper will discuss Sally’s anxiety difficulties. It will explain separation anxiety particularly its causes and the difficulties which may stem from the disorder. I will also endeavour to design a suitable behavioural program that shall seek to address the disorder by means of an operant conditioning technique. Finally I shall discuss how I would measure the success of the proposed behavioural program.
“What was once thought to be a normal part of growing up, professionals now recognize excessive anxiety as a debilitating condition with long-term consequences” (King 1993, pg 305). Separation anxiety stems from a babies attachment to its mother. Research into the attachment theory was developed by Mary Ainsworth (Plotnik 2003, pg385) in 1969. I was then that Ainsworth questioned, how attachment occurs? Are there different types of attachment? And what are the long-term effects of attachment? (Plotnik 2003, pg385).
Attachment occurs from the birth stage and through infancy. It is at this stage the child begins smiling and general social interaction. (Plotnik 2003, pg385). Ainsworth concluded that there were four different kinds of attachment ranging from “attachment parenting”- where the child uses there care giver as a safe base and feels secure – to “Insecure parenting”- where the child shows resistance or ambivalence towards its parents. The different type of attachment or bond formed with the child over the first five years (cited in Plotnik 2003, pg 385) answers the third question of what are the long term effects of attachment.
Having a secure relationship as a child is associated with better problem solving skills and better relationships in later life. (Plotnik 2003, pg 385). While having an a strong attachment is important, to reduce the chances of a child developing separation anxiety it is important for a child to build trust in other adults and interaction with other children also is beneficial (www.mn.essortment.com.whatisattachme_rtts.htm). “Separation anxiety is an infant’s distress – as indicated by loud protests, crying and agitation – whenever the infant’s parents temporarily leave” (Plotnik 2003, pg 385) or a distress reaction due to the absence of the parent or care giver (LaFreniere, P 1995 www.findarticles.com.au).
Most common times for separation fears are between eight and twelve months and anytime between 18 months and three years. (Watkins, www.baltimorepsych.com). It is important to make a child feel secure in there environment before leaving them with another care giver. For example visiting the care giver on a regular basis before leaving them with that person for a long period of time (Fox 1996, pg 47). “A stranger’s approach is critical in determining how an infant might respond”(Watkins, www.baltimorepsych.com). For example if the stranger approaches slowly, when the caregiver is nearby, smiling and speaking softly, offering a toy, the infant will often show interest, distress is less likely “(Watkins, www.baltimorepsych.com).
Treating separation anxiety can be difficult in some children. Some children may benefit from counselling or therapy (Watkins, www.baltimorepsych.com), although other methods, for example, the operant conditioning (or instrumental conditioning) may be more appropriate for Sally as this is the first time she will be absent from her mother or main caregiver. The “operant conditioning method is a kind of learning in which a human performs some behaviour, and the following consequence (reward or punishment) increases or decreases the chance the human will again perform that behaviour” (Plotnik 2003, pg 213).
In relation to Sally’s situation the operant conditioning technique would be used by way of taking Sally to her grandmas rewarding her with praise and treats if she doesn’t get upset when you leave her. Using this method will teach her to relate treats with both being well behaved and grandma. This must be done immediately after she does not cry or when she stops crying, by her grandma, so that she relates the treat with being well behaved.