5 Signs You Need to Find Child Separation Anxiety Help

As a part of normal childhood development, infants and toddlers can be expected to experience a certain degree of child separation anxiety. By the age of two, children should reach a point where they realize a parent’s absence is only temporary. After the age of two, signs of child separation anxiety may well indicate a developing disorder.

According to Massachusetts General Hospital, child separation anxiety disorder affects an estimated two to five percent of children. Children struggling with this condition show signs of extreme distress in the absence of the primary caregiver. Signs of child separation anxiety can vary from child to child as circumstances in the home and in the child’s life all influence a his or her sense of well-being.

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Child Separation Anxiety

anxiety in children

Separation anxiety affects many children, but only some end up having a severe problem with it.

Much like any other form of psychological disorder, signs of child separation anxiety develop out of faulty belief systems that get expressed through unhealthy coping behaviors. Somewhere along the line, the child has come to believe something bad will happen to the parent when absent.

Child separation anxiety can develop gradually or all at once depending on the circumstances in a child’s life. Traumatic events, such as the death of a friend or loved one can trigger the condition. Ongoing conflicts in the home environment can also bring about signs of separation anxiety in a child when the child thinks he or she is to blame. In this case, a fear of punishment (never seeing the parent again) underlies the child’s anxiety over the parent’s absence.

5 Signs of Child Separation Anxiety

1. Fear and Worry

Children affected by child separation anxiety remain in a state of fear and worry both before and during a parent’s absence. Signs of fear and worry may take the form of:

  • Fear of being left alone
  • Acting-out behaviors when absent from the home environment
  • Worry that something bad will happen to the parent
  • Worry that something bad will happen to him or herself
  • Worry that a parent will become sick while absent
  • Fear of getting lost when separated from the parent
  • Crying episodes
  • Feelings of panic

2. Impaired Social Interactions

Signs of child separation anxiety disorder cause a noticeable degree of “disorder” within a child’s daily life. Once a child’s concerns over being absent from the parent start to impair his or her ability to interact with peers, these behaviors can set the stage for other types of problems to take shape.

Signs of impaired social interactions may include:

  • Low self-esteem issues
  • Avoiding peers and/or peer-based activities
  • Refusing to take part in outings or activities away from the home
  • No interest in afterschool programs or extracurricular activities
  • Symptoms of depression – sadness, isolating, low energy levels

3. Decline in School Performance

Signs of child separation anxiety can affect different children in different ways when it comes to how they behave in school. Some children may try to hide their fears while at school, whereas others may have an especially difficult time functioning in the classroom environment.

Signs of decline in school performance include:

  • Poor attendance due to not wanting to leave home
  • Temper tantrums at school
  • Arriving late to school on a frequent basis
  • Inability to concentrate in the classroom
  • Not able to follow directions
  • Not able to pay attention
  • Poor grades

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4. Physical Ailments

In cases of severe child separation anxiety, a child may develop actual physical ailments when separated from the parent or in anticipation of the parent’s absence. Complaints of physical discomfort occur on a frequent basis or regular basis rather than as random occurrences.

Physical ailments brought on by child separation anxiety include:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping alone
  • Nightmares
  • Diarrhea

5. Co-Occurring Conditions

Psychological disorders in general trigger abnormal chemical processes in the brain. Over time, these changes can become ingrained to the point where brain chemical imbalances take over.

When left untreated, the brain chemical changes brought on by child separation anxiety can predispose a child to developing other forms of psychological dysfunction, including:

Diagnosing Child Separation Anxiety Disorder

While signs of child separation anxiety disorder may be easy to spot, certain criteria must be met in order to make a correct diagnosis. Criteria requirements include:

  • A child must display at least three of the above symptoms
  • Symptoms must be ongoing for a minimum of one month
  • Symptoms must cause considerable distress and dysfunction within the major areas of a child’s daily life (home, school, social relationships)

It’s also important to rule out any other medical and/or mental health problems beforehand. Normally, healthcare providers perform a physical examination, lab work and a psychological assessment to arrive at a correct diagnosis.

We can help you find treatment for your child. Call 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?)  toll free anytime.

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors can make a child more susceptible to developing separation anxiety. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, risk factors may be genetic or environmental, though environmental factors tend to exert the most influence. Child separation anxiety can develop in cases where parents tend to be overprotective as well as in households where displays of affection are few and far between.

Another risk factor concerns parents struggling with their own mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety disorders as these conditions tend to breed insecurity in a child. Households in which children have little to no control over their environment or their space can also incite feelings of anxiousness when a parent is absent.


In order for a child to overcome separation anxiety, certain conditions must be in place:

  • A child must be able to trust that parents will return
  • A child must feel safe within the confines of the home
  • A child must be able to trust others

For these reasons, treatment for child separation anxiety includes the family and teachers, when necessary.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, children affected by separation anxiety experience a high degree of stress in their daily lives. If you suspect your child struggles with symptoms of separation anxiety, the sooner he or she gets needed treatment the better.


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