Child Separation Anxiety – Explanation, Causes and Treatment

Separation anxiety is a young child’s fear of being separated from their primary caregiver, such as, their mother or father. It is an uncontrollable anxiety felt by the child when their caregiver is away, and perhaps even when the child is away from home. It can also be the child’s fear of an upcoming, potential separation. Occasionally children suffering from separation anxiety develop physical symptoms, such as, a headache or a stomachache. It is an extremely common affliction in toddlers, and has a noticeable effect, among preschool and kindergarten aged children.

How do I know if separation anxiety affects my child?

Separation Anxiety affects about five percent of school aged children, and affects most children when they are toddlers. The most obvious sign is the presence of tempers tantrums, when your child is about to be separated from you. Other signs include refusal to allow the separation, bedwetting, frequent nightmares, and achiness. Some children also develop a lasting worry that something bad will happen to either themselves, or their caregiver, if they are separated.

When is my child, most at risk, to develop separation anxiety?

Young toddlers, from about seven months to a little over a year, are most likely to be effected by separation anxiety. Your child could still develop it at a younger or older age though. A handful of school-aged children, from seven years old to eleven years old, are also at risk of developing separation anxiety. This usually occurs after a familiar problem or displacement at home or school.

What causes separation anxiety?

A stressful event most likely causes separation anxiety. It tends to manifest after traumatic, or just new, and recent experiences. This could be moving, changing schools, staying in a hospital, or losing a loved one. The presence of separation anxiety, seems to be related to the initial disposition of the caregiver. Overbearing and overprotective parents, tend to go hand in hand, with separation anxiety. Some characteristics of the relationship that promote the development of this anxiety, whether the child has only been cared for by a single person, the child’s proximity, and exposure to other people, and there also seems to be a relationship between familiar mental illness and developing separation anxiety.

Can a doctor confirm the presence of separation anxiety in your child?

Doctors will confirm the presence of separation anxiety. There is no medical test that proves your child has it, so your child’s doctor will do an examination, in an attempt to rule out medical illness. Your doctor will then look at the symptoms and dictate, whether your child is suffering from separation anxiety, and will likely give you a few suggestions on how to handle it.

How to treat separation anxiety?

Usually, there is no treatment required. The anxiety will eventually disappear on its own. If the anxiety is hindering daily events or preventing your child from attending school, your doctor may suggest a psychologist or therapist. The only way to assist in ending your child’s anxiety is to help your child understand the necessities of being separated from you, on occasion. Explain the situation to your child, and let them know that it is okay, healthy, and natural for the two of you to be separated, sometimes. There is no way to prevent anxiety for your child, the best you can do is just explain things to your child and communicate with them.

Does separation anxiety reoccur?

Separation anxiety doesn’t run on a loop. Your child could stop feeling anxious, and never experience this anxiety again, but it does sometimes return. After a lengthy separation or new occurrence, your child could begin to feel anxiety regarding his separation from you. Like before, it will go away on its own, just be patient.


Separation anxiety is common in children. It may be hard to see your child visibly upset by your departure, but don’t feel guilty or allow yourself to get upset. This is a fairly normal step in your child’s life. The best thing you can do is be honest and consistent. Be strong, leave when you say you are going to, but also return when you say you will. By returning at the communicated time, you instill confidence in your child, that you will be back, and that they will survive until then.

The only way to stop your child’s anxiety is with experience. Your child will stop feeling anxious, after he adapts to being around somebody else. As long as your child is being properly cared for and his schedule stays relatively consistent, he will grow out of his separation anxiety. To ease your child’s transition from staying home with you to staying with a sitter or in day care, visit the sitter or day care with your child a few times. This will help your child to feel more comfortable and understand what is about to occur.

Always take special consideration when choosing your child’s care provider. If symptoms continue for an unexpectedly long time, or if your child voices dislike or fear of their care provider, you may need to check into your arrangements, because something is likely not right.

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