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Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety is a normal stage of development for infants and toddlers. Young children often experience a period of separation anxiety, but most children outgrow it by about 3 years of age.

In some children, as early as preschool age, symptoms of separation anxiety are excessive for the developmental age and cause significant distress in daily functioning. Separation anxiety disorder involves intense or prolonged symptoms, especially if they interfere with school or other activities or include panic attacks or other problems. Most frequently, this relates to anxiety about the child’s parents or other close caregiver.

Less often, separation anxiety disorder can occur in teenagers and adults, causing significant problems leaving home or going to work. Treatment can help.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder

    • Recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home or loved ones
    • Constant, excessive worry about losing a parent or other loved one to an illness or a disaster
    • Constant worry that something bad will happen, such as being lost or kidnapped
    • Refusing to be away from home 
    • Not wanting to be home alone and without a parent or other loved one in the house
    • Reluctance or refusing to sleep away from home without a parent or other loved one nearby
    • Repeated nightmares about separation
    • Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other symptoms when anticipating separation from a parent or other loved one 
    • Associated with panic disorder and panic attacks―repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes

Causes and risk factors

Sometimes, separation anxiety disorder can be triggered by life stress that results in separation from a loved one. Genetics may also play a role in developing the disorder. Most often beginning in childhood, it may continue into teenage years and sometimes into adulthood. Risk factors include:

Life stresses or loss that result in separation, such as the illness or death of a loved one, loss of a beloved pet, divorce of parents or moving or going away to school

Certain temperaments  prone to anxiety disorders 

Family history, including blood relatives with an anxiety disorder, indicating traits could be inherited

Environmental issues, such as experiencing a disaster involving separation

Read more about CFI’s treatment options for Separation Anxiety Disorder and other anxiety disorders.



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