photo by Paul Bence

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Some anxiety about separation from caregivers is a normal developmental concern for most children, especially between 7 months and 5 years of age. However, some children experience excessive worry or fear about separation from family members that extends into late childhood and early adolescence. Separation Anxiety Disorder is characterized by a fear response that is beyond what is considered developmentally appropriate and is often accompanied by somatic complaints (upset stomach, headaches) and persistent nightmares. If untreated Separation Anxiety Disorder can lead to school refusal and can significantly interfere with a child’s ability to participate in activities outside of the home.

Key Facts

  • Separation Anxiety Disorder is experienced by approximately 4% of school aged children
  • The most common anxiety disorder in children under 12 is Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Boys and girls are equally affected by Separation Anxiety Disorder 
  • Untreated Separation Anxiety Disorder is associated with developing a panic disorder or depression later in life

Factors that Influence Separation Anxiety Disorder

Children with a family history of anxiety may be more susceptible to developing Separation Anxiety Disorder than the general population. However, the onset of symptoms is usually triggered by stress, trauma, or changes in environment. 

The onset of Separation Anxiety Disorder symptoms peaks with entry into school, between ages 7-9, and again with the transition into middle school or high school.

Treatment

Family involvement is key for effective treatment for Separation Anxiety Disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be an effective way of teaching children to understand and manage their fears. 

Parent training can teach parents how to manage their own reactions to their child’s anxiety. Behavioral interventions like contingency management equips parents to reinforce brave behavior rather than simply responding to the symptoms of their child’s anxiety. 

Mindfulness training can be helpful to both parents and children in addressing the difficult emotions that accompany the experience of Separation Anxiety Disorder. 

When Separation Anxiety Disorder is identified and treated appropriately children can overcome their fears and begin enjoying their lives again.

Next Steps

If you are concerned about your own or your child's mental health Edgar Psychological can help with individual therapy and parent coaching.

Psychologists that Specialize in Seperation Anxiety Disorder

Vivian Houg has extensive experience providing treatment for Seperation Anxiety Disorder in children and adolescents.

References

Child Mind Institute. (2018). Separation Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from Guides: https://childmind.org/guide/separation-anxiety-disorder/

Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute. (2015). Anxiety - Practical Intervention Strategies. Winnipeg: Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute.

Separation Anxiety. (2017). Retrieved from AnxietyBC: https://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/separation-anxiety-disorder