Separation Anxiety Disorder in Children

  • As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to watch your child becoming distressed and worrying about being separated from you. When this distress is excessive, ongoing and disruptive to your child’s (as well as your family’s) life, it’s 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 they’re apart from the family members, other people or places she’s most attached to. Sometimes, just the thought of being separated causes this intense worry.

    Children with SAD may fear:

    • being lost and unable to return to home or family
    • something bad happening to a loved one during, or because of, the separation 

    While all children go through phases of “clinginess,” especially with parents, your child is likely to have separation anxiety disorder if his feelings:

    • last for at least four weeks
    • are more severe than the normal separation anxiety most children experience  

    The good news is that, like all anxiety disorders, separation anxiety disorder is very treatable in kids of all ages.

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches separation anxiety disorder

    As one of the largest pediatric psychiatric services in New England, Children’s has a team of expert psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers ready to help you, your child and your family cope with separation anxiety disorder (SAD).

    Our Department of Psychiatry team members are leaders in researching, diagnosing and treating SAD and other anxiety disorders, as well as:

    Our approach to mental health care is evidence-based—which means that our treatments have been tested and proven effective through scientific studies, both here at our hospital and by other leading institutions worldwide. We use “talk therapy” as our primary method of treatment for anxiety, focusing on teaching children helpful thinking and coping skills to overcome symptoms and adopt new, healthier thought patterns and behaviors.

    In certain instances, we might recommend that your child begin an anti-anxiety medication regimen—always in conjunction with talk therapy. Children’s has a dedicated Psychopharmacology Clinic to help you determine whether medication might be a helpful addition to your child’s treatment plan.

    Our team is always aware that your child is, first and foremost, a child—and not merely a recipient of care. You and your family are essential members of the treatment team, and our compassionate mental health professionals will include you in the therapeutic process at every step of the way.

    Separation anxiety disorder: Reviewed by David R. DeMaso, MD
    © Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011

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