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Separation Anxiety Disorder

QUESTION: What are the symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder?


Although a certain amount of separation anxiety is a positive indicator that a healthy bond is being established between parent and child, certain behaviors may suggest the possibility of a more serious problem called Separation Anxiety Disorder. Parents should be vigilant in watching for excessive amounts of fear and symptoms of separation anxiety that extend beyond 4-6 weeks.

A child who is experiencing Separation Anxiety can usually be comforted and will stop crying within a few minutes of a parents' departure. If a toddler continues to exhibit long periods of crying and cannot be consoled within approximately two weeks of the new transition, he or she is most likely at risk for Separation Anxiety Disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-IV), anxiety and fear must be negatively impacting social, academic, or job functioning for over a month in order to diagnose the presence of Separation Anxiety Disorder.

According to the office of the Surgeon General of the United States, approximately 4% of children and adolescents are diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder. Symptoms of the disorder should include at least three of the following:
  • Recurrent fear of losing an attachment figure (parent or caregiver)
  • Reluctance or refusal to go to school due to fear of separation
  • Excessive worry about being separated from an attachment giver (through death, getting lost or being kidnapped, etc.)
  • Excessive amounts of fear and anxiety when separated from an attachment figure (may manifest itself in inconsolable tears, physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, vomiting, or severe withdrawal)
  • Fear of being left alone without a parent or caregiver
  • Refusal of going to sleep without the presence of a parent or caregiver in the room (sometimes resulting in the child leaving his or her bed and assuming a position on the floor by the bed or outside the door of the parent or caregiver)
  • Repeated nightmares with themes involving separation from parent or caregiver
Older children with Separation Anxiety Disorder may exhibit fear of leaving home to attend school, camp, or even overnight stays with friends. They will frequently admit to experiencing heart palpation, sweatiness, dizziness, and feeling flushed during moments of intense anxiety. Many older children report struggling with feelings of shame and failure attached to their inability to overcome the fears and their intense longing to succeed.

If you have concerns about whether your child suffers from Separation Anxiety Disorder, talk with your family physician or pediatrician. You may wish to ask for a referral to see a professional counselor who can offer behavioral strategies to help your child.

Learn More About Separation Anxiety!

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