Understanding Separation Anxiety Disorder

What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

It’s perfectly normal for children to feel anxious when they are separated from their parents.  From the age of around six months they will show signs of crying when you leave, being clingy or even throwing tantrums, it’s all a normal part of their development and whilst it can vary in degree and severity, by the age of three or four they will have outgrown it.

If however your child is still showing signs of anxiety when you’re separated, the symptoms aren’t decreasing or it’s causing them problems at school, then it’s possible that they have developed separation anxiety disorder.  Whilst the condition is more common in children adults can also develop the disorder, whether it’s triggered by separation from a person, place or animal.


The condition occurs when a child feels threatened, insecure or unsafe usually as a result of a major change to their routine.  This can have a variety of causes which can include things like a change to their environment, whether it’s a change of home, school or living arrangements.  A change to their main caregiver, or if they suffer a bereavement which can include family pets.  This can cause your child to feel stressed and insecure which can lead to them developing anxiety problems.  Having an over protective parent can also be a factor as children pick up and feed on their parents’ stress and anxiety.


Children can often feel overwhelmed by the variety of feelings separation can cause, and this can result in them struggling on a daily basis, these can include:

·      The constant fear that you will be injured, hurt or become sick so won’t be able to be with them

·      Sleep disturbances and nightmares about not being with you

·      Their refusal to be separated from you for any length of time and not wanting to be at home without you, or stay away from home overnight

·      Worry that something will happen to them which will cause them to be separated from you

·      Complain about feeling ill or unwell then they are away from you

Professional Help

If you or your child are suffering from recurring anxiety when you are separated you should consult your doctor so they can rule out any underlying medical reason.  They can refer you to a mental health specialist who can diagnose the condition and recommend suitable forms of treatment.  Therapies can include talking therapies, such as psychotherapy and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which will help children to face their fears and overcome their anxiety at being separated.

Play therapy encourages children to relax and open up and talk about their fears and feelings, family therapy can help parents to develop coping skills to help their child through their anxiety.  Medication can be prescribed in extreme cases along with the appropriate therapy dependant on the age of the child and severity of the symptoms.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK). For more free Information click above link.