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Separation Anxiety

A disorder in which a child becomes excessively anxious when separated from parents.

Common

More than 200,000 US cases per year

  • Usually self-treatable
  • Medium-term: resolves within months
  • Usually self-diagnosable
  • Lab tests or imaging not required

Children are especially prone to separation anxiety during times of stress.

Separation anxiety differs from normal clinginess. Children with the disorder can’t think about anything but the present fear of separation. They may have nightmares or regular physical complaints. They may be reluctant to go to school or other places.

Treatment includes talk therapy and possibly anti-anxiety medication.

Ages affected

Symptoms

Usually self-diagnosable

Separation anxiety differs from normal clinginess. Children with the disorder can’t think about anything but the present fear of separation. They may have nightmares or regular physical complaints. They may be reluctant to go to school or other places.

People may experience:

Mood: anxiety or apprehension
Psychological: depression or fear
Also common: crying, nightmares, palpitations, or rapid breathing

Treatments

Treatment consists of therapy

Treatment includes talk therapy and possibly anti-anxiety medication.

Therapies

Family therapy: Psychological counseling that helps families resolve conflicts and communicate more effectively.
Behavior therapy: A therapy focused on modifying harmful behaviors associated with psychological distress.
Psychotherapy: Treatment of mental or behavioral disorders through talk therapy.
Systematic desensitization: Psychological treatment that helps people overcome fears by gradually exposing them to the things they’re afraid of.

Supportive care

Reassurance: Providing comfort and support to an anxious person whose condition is not life-threatening and may improve with time.
Monitoring for changes or improvement: Monitoring a medical condition instead of taking action right away.

Specialists

Clinical psychologist: Treats mental disorders primarily with talk therapy.
Psychiatrist: Treats mental disorders primarily with medications.
Pediatrician: Provides medical care for infants, children, and teenagers.

Consult a doctor for medical advice
Note: The information you see describes what usually happens with a medical condition, but doesn’t apply to everyone. This information isn’t medical advice, so make sure to contact a healthcare provider if you have a medical problem. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or a emergency number immediately.

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