What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety, which can be defined as the experience of distress upon being separated from one's parent or caregiver, is a temporary and age-appropriate phenomenon observed in infants and toddlers between 6 and 18 months of age. Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD), on the other hand, is characterized by significant and recurrent amounts of worry upon (or anticipation of) separation from a child or adolescent's home or from those to whom the child or adolescent is attached.
Those suffering from SAD may worry about losing their parents and/or getting lost or kidnapped. They often refuse to go to certain places (e.g., school) because of fears of separation, or become extremely fearful when they are left alone without their parents. These children and adolescents may also refuse to sleep alone, experience nightmares about separation, or experience various physical complaints (e.g., body-aches, nausea) when separated from their parents. Separation anxiety may cause significant impairment in important areas of functioning, (e.g., academic and social). The duration of this problem must last for at least four weeks and must present itself before the child is 18 years of age.
For specific treatment options, please refer to the “Anxiety – General Symptoms” table
Example of Separation Anxiety
Jane is a 6 year-old first grader who cries everyday when her mother drops her off at school. She suffers from extreme anxiety whenever she is away from her mother because she fears that her mother may leave and never come back or could get into an accident and die. Jane also worries a lot about getting lost or being kidnapped when she is away from her mother. She has a hard time falling asleep at night because she experiences nightmares about getting kidnapped and often insists upon sleeping in the same bed as her mother every night. Jane also complains of headaches, stomachaches, and nausea when getting ready for school in the morning. Finally, she sometimes calls mom from the school nurse's office to come and pick her up from school because she is "sick." Jane never feels "sick" on the weekends or school holidays