Separation Anxiety Disorder


Happy Father with Baby BoyIt’s perfectly natural for a young child to feel anxious when separated from a parent. Crying, clinging behaviors or tantrums are common reactions when a parent goes away or when a child is left at day care or preschool. Usually, these behaviors stop once the child is distracted and engaged in new activity.

This is a normal stage of development for many children aged 18 months to about three or four years old, and symptoms usually fade as the child ages. However, if this fear occurs in an older child, becomes excessive or persists for more than a month, the child may have separation anxiety disorder.

While adults can suffer from separation anxiety, it usually affects children seven to nine years old. Separation anxiety disorder affects about 4% of children and often develops after a significant life event such as death of a parent or pet, move to a new home or school, or major illness or hospital stay.

A child with separation anxiety disorder experiences excessive fear and nervousness when away from home or a parent. This fear then interferes with school or other activities. Symptoms may include extreme homesickness, refusal to go to school or camp, complaints of headaches or stomachaches on school days, bedwetting, nightmares or worry that something bad will happen to the child or parent while they are apart.

Tips for Easing Separation Anxiety

Schedule separations after naps or feedings. Babies are more likely to feel anxiety when they are tired or hungry.

Practice. Leave your child with a caregiver for a short period of time to get your child slowly more accustomed to your absence

Develop a “goodbye” ritual. This can be as simple as a special hand wave or blowing a kiss.

Leave without fanfare. Tell your child that you are leaving and that you’ll return soon. Be lighthearted and matter-of-fact in your approach. Don’t linger, as this will only give increase your child’s anxiety. Just go.