Separation Anxiety Disorder

Also known as: separation anxiety, phobia.

What is separation anxiety disorder?

Separation anxiety is normal in the very young child (particularly between 8 and 14 months of age). When this fear, anxiousness or distress when not being with a parent or caregiver occurs in children over the age of 6 years, and lasts longer than 4 weeks, the child may suffer from separation anxiety disorder. It affects approximately 4% of children ages 7-11 years of age.

What causes separation anxiety disorder?

Life changes such as death, divorce, changing schools and other major events can lead to separation anxiety disorder. It also appears to run in families particularly where parents are overly anxious or overprotective (or have family members with anxiety or other mental problems).

What are the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder?

Common symptoms include a lasting and unrealistic worry that something bad is going to happen to the child or parent/caregiver if the child leaves. Refusal to sleep away from home or away from parent/caregiver, nightmares about being separated, bed wetting, or pleading/tantrums when needing to go to school or physical symptoms like headaches, or stomach aches on school days.

What are separation anxiety disorder care options?

If severe (mild cases may not need medical treatment) treatment options include psychotherapy with cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, and antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety medications.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: November 20, 2019 02:37 PM

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