Early Childhood Intervention: Module Two – Special Needs & Conditions

Category — 2.9 Children with Mental Health Disorders: Separation Anxiety

Children with Separation Anxiety Disorder


Separation anxiety1 is a disorder that affects some young children.

Most children experience some sort of separation anxiety, between the ages of 12 and 18 months. This type of anxiety usually disappears, on its own, when the child is about two years old. At this age, separation anxiety is not a red flag. It is, in fact, a sign of healthy attachment to the parent. A child is healthily attached to the caregiver and experiences fear and anxiety when separated from this caregiver. Children usually outgrow this anxiety, on their own, and without therapy.

Separation anxiety becomes problematic when it persists beyond the ages of two or three years.

  • Approximately 12% of children will suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder before they reach age 18.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder has three peaks: between ages 5-6, ages 7-9, and ages 12-14.

When a child continues to experience problems, every time he or she is separated from a primary caregiver, he or she may have a pathological type of separation anxiety (see full Glossary).

Some of the symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Fussing and crying;
  • Throwing temper tantrums;
  • Panicking;
  • Screaming;
  • Refusing to leave the parent’s side;
  • Wanting to sleep in the same bed as the parent;
  • Exhibiting certain psycho-somatic symptoms (e.g. tummy aches, vomiting);
  • Coming up with excuses not to be separated from the caregiver.

Separation Anxiety Disorder can really interfere with or restrict a child or teen’s normal activities. He or she can become isolated from peers, and have difficulty developing and maintaining friendships. It can also lead to missed opportunities to learn new activities. School attendance and performance can drop. The child, who cannot be separated from the parent, ends up missing out on many activities, both in and out of preschool or school. Even if the child manages to separate from the caregiver, he or she is so consumed with worry, he or she is unable to enjoy everyday activities. Many children and teens with Separation Anxiety Disorder appear depressed, withdrawn, and apathetic.

Intervention options

Psychotherapy (see full Glossary) is recommended as an effective treatment for this disorder.

1 see References

January 18, 2011   No Comments