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Looking at Separation Anxiety


Separation anxiety is a very functional emotional response that children appropriately experience when separated from a caregiver.
Separation anxiety refers to excessive fear or worry about separation from the home or attachment figure.
Excessive apprehension or anxiety due to the removal or departure of a significant person or familiar surroundings.


It is natural for young children to feel anxious when their parent or primary caregiver says goodbye. In early childhood, crying, tantrums, or clinginess are healthy reactions to separation and a normal stage of development. Separation anxiety can begin before a child’s first birthday and may pop up again or last until a child is four years old. Both the intensity level and timing of separation anxiety vary tremendously from child to child. A little worry over leaving mom and dad is normal, even when your child is older. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits (Robinson et al., 2019). When does separation anxiety become a disorder?

Some children experience separation anxiety that does not go away, even with the parent’s best efforts. These children experience a continuation or re-occurrence of intense separation anxiety during their primary school years or beyond. If separation anxiety is excessive enough to interfere with normal activities like school and friendships, and lasts for months rather than days, it may be a sign of a larger problem which is known as Separation Anxiety Disorder (Robinson et al., 2019).

Separation anxiety disorder is not a normal stage of development, but serious emotional problems characterized by extreme distress when a child is away from the primary caregiver. The main differences between normal separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder are the intensity of the child’s fears, and whether these fears keep them from normal activities (Robinson et al., 2019).

Children with separation anxiety disorder may become agitated at just the thought of being away from mom and dad and may complain of sickness to avoid playing with friends or just attending school.

What is separation anxiety?

A clinician must differentiate between an emotionally delayed child with continued separation anxiety and the child with early onset separation anxiety disorder. The two can be diferentiated by the following:
• The later stage of onset.
• Its persistence throughout childhood.
• It general impact.

Normal developmental separation anxiety usually resolves without any specific intervention or treatment, while the early anxiety disorder will usually not resolve without some intervention or treatment (Guthrie, 1997).

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