Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children

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As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to watch your child becoming distressed and worried about being separated from you. When this distress is ongoing and disruptive to your child’s (as well as your family’s) life, it is likely to be separation anxiety disorder. Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is an anxiety disorder that causes a child to suffer from feelings of extreme worry when apart from family members or other places/ people she is attached to. Sometimes just the thought of the separation causes this intense worry.

Children with SAD may experience:

  • Difficulty being away from parents or other loved ones
  • Excessive worry about harm to loved ones
  • Excessive worry about danger to self
  • Difficulty leaving the house, even to go to school
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling physically ill when away from loved ones

In order to diagnose SAD, these symptoms must be present for at least 4 weeks and be more severe than the normal separation anxiety that most children experience.

Treatment for separation anxiety disorder usually includes therapy, medication, or a combination of both. The most common form of therapy used to treat separation anxiety disorder is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves helping children and parents to learn ways to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. Therapists can help parents to understand how their behavior may increase their child’s anxiety (for example, allowing their child to skip school). It is very important to seek out medical advice if you are concerned that your child has separation anxiety disorder, because if left untreated, anxieties can grow bigger.

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