Separation Anxiety Disorder

Home Disorders Separation Anxiety Disorder

What Is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Separation anxiety is common and can be normal. Typically, it occurs in children between 18 months and three years old when a parent leaves the room or goes out of sight. Usually, children can be distracted from these feelings. Separation anxiety is also normal when children are first being left at daycare or preschool, and usually subsides after children get used to their new environment. If child is slightly older and unable to leave a parent or another family member, takes longer to calm down after parent leaves than other children, then they may have Separation anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety disorder is diagnosed when children are excessively anxious about leaving the home or separations from their loved ones, even for short periods of time. These children may worry that their caregivers will be harmed or injured, may be reluctant to sleep or be alone, or show other signs of distress such as nightmares or physical symptoms. Extreme homesickness and feelings of misery at not being with loved ones are common. These children may refuse to go to school, camp, or a sleepover, and demand that someone stay with them at bedtime.

Separation anxiety disorder affects 4 percent of children, and is most common in children ages seven to nine. It often develops following periods of life stress, such as the death of a relative or pet, change of schools, or parental divorce. While heightened anxiety is a common experience for children who have been separated from their caregivers or are struggling with the distress that often accompanies these transitional periods, separation anxiety disorder can develop when children are able to repeatedly find ways to escape this distress. For instance, a child might reduce their anxiety by finding a way to return to their parent or engage in “safety behaviors” to make sure that the parent is safe, thereby preventing them from learning how to tolerate these feelings. Genetics also place a role in separation anxiety disorder, meaning that children who have family members who also struggle with anxiety may be more likely to struggle with this condition.


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