Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety begins in childhood and is characterized by excessive anxiety related to separation from home or from loved ones (parents, siblings, significant others). This anxiety interferes with social, school, or work functioning.  Children and adults who experience separation anxiety often experience at least three or more of the following:

  • Recurrent distress when separated from home or attachment figure or when separation is anticipated.
  • Excessive worry about losing or harm coming to attachment figure.
  • Persistent and excessive worry that an event will lead to separation from attachment figure, for example getting lost or being kidnapped.
  • Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because of fear of separation.
  • Persistent or excessive fear or reluctance to be alone without major attachment figures at home or in other settings.
  • Persistence reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home.
  • Repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation.
  • Repeated complaints about physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting, when separation from major attachment figure occurs or is anticipated.

Separation anxiety disorder is not to be confused with normal separation anxiety that occurs in infants and toddlers once they realize that they are separate from their primary caregivers.  This normally occurs in children aged 7-14 months old and is sometimes referred to as stranger anxiety.