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Separation Anxiety

Also called: Separation Anxiety Disorder

- Summary
- About separation anxiety
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis and treatment
- Prevention methods
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.


Separation anxiety is a phase in some children’s lives where they become anxious during separations from a parent or other primary caregiver. It usually takes place between the ages of 8 months and 14 months.

Children with separation anxiety may display symptoms such as crying, begging or screaming when separated from a parent. They may have nightmares about separation from parents or complain of various physical ailments. Depressed mood, excessive levels of worry about being lost or kidnapped, and fear of sleeping alone are other symptoms associated with separation anxiety.

In most cases, separation anxiety is treated as a normal stage of child development. Children will grow out of this phase as they develop a better understanding of the world and learn to trust that their parents will return to them.

However, children who continue to experience intense separation anxiety into preschool or elementary school years may have separation anxiety disorder. Research indicates that separation anxiety disorder is associated with an increased risk of developing other mental disorders (e.g., eating disorders) later in life.   

Historically, separation anxiety disorder has been diagnosed in children. However, researchers are currently investigating the prevalence of this disorder in adults, and the relationship between adult separation anxiety disorder and the childhood disorder.  Psychotherapy and medications are typically used to treat separation anxiety disorder.

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Review Date: 12-20-2006

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