Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is a common condition found in children and young adolescents. Children who suffer from this condition experience excessive anxiety caused by actual or impending separation from their primary attachment figure. While separation anxiety is normal in very young children between the ages of eight months and two years, when this fear occurs excessively in children over the age of six years, they may have a separation anxiety disorder.

Separation anxiety occurs frequently when a child first goes to school or daycare. While some fear and anxiety is expected from these significant changes in a child's life, anxiety that does not subside over time, may be diagnosed as separation anxiety disorder. If a child's separation anxiety is excessive, lasts for months rather than a few days, and interferes with normal activities like school, play and and friendships, it may be a sign of a separation anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder

Children who suffer from separation anxiety disorder become extremely anxious and fearful when they are separated from a parent, caregiver or loved one. They may also develop physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches when they even anticipate being apart form a loved one. Additional symptoms of a separation anxiety disorder may include:

  • Reluctance to go to school
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Excessive worry that something bad will happen to a loved one while separated
  • Bed wetting
  • Concerns about death and dying
  • Fear of being alone
  • Excessive distress when separated from caregiver
  • In need of constant attention

Cause of Separation Anxiety Disorder

The exact cause of separation anxiety is not known, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors. Stressful situations like moving to a new home, starting a new school, or the loss of a loved one, may trigger a separation anxiety disorder. Sometimes, a parent who is very overprotective or anxious about things may cause a child to develop a separation anxiety disorder. Research has also indicated that children with separation anxiety disorders may also have a family member that suffers from other mental health or anxiety disorders.

Diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder

To diagnose a separation anxiety disorder, a doctor will conduct a full physical examination and a review of all symptoms. Blood and urine tests may also be performed to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to the anxiety. A child psychologist or psychiatrist may perform a full psychological evaluation to make a proper diagnosis and create a treatment plan.

Treatment of Separation Anxiety Disorder

Therapy is the most common treatment for separation anxiety disorder. The goal of therapy is to reduce anxiety in the child and help to develop a sense of security for the child and the caregiver. It also aims to educate the child and family about the need for natural separations. In severe cases, medication in the form of antidepressants may be used to treat the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder. Parents or caregivers can also help in easing the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder by creating and adhering to daily family routines, setting limits for the child, and staying calm during times of separation.

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