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Frequently Asked Questions about Separation Anxiety Disorder

Frequently Asked Questions about Separation Anxiety DisorderIt can be natural for young children to be afraid of being with unknown people or in unfamiliar surroundings. This is a normal part of childhood development.

However, when children grow older and continue to show unusually great fear in such situations, separation anxiety disorder could be the problem. They fear that something fatal or disastrous may happen to someone they care about if they are separated from them. Because of their fear, they may be overly clingy, have problems falling asleep, complain about headaches or stomachaches, or not want to go to school.

My child refuses to spend the night at her cousin’s house. Is this separation anxiety disorder?

Not necessarily. Before presuming a diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder, you must consider several factors. Determine the reasons behind your child’s behavior, for example, maybe your child does not like the planned activities, is afraid of the dog or does not get enough to eat while visiting. Estimate how long this and similar behaviors have lasted. Such behaviors must be present for at least four weeks for a diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder. Also, look for other symptoms such as recurrent distress upon separation from home in all situations, not just spending the night at a cousin’s house, excessive worry about something terrible happening to someone your child cares about, or refusal to attend school.

How can I tell whether my son has separation anxiety or separation anxiety disorder?

It can be natural for young children to be afraid of being with unknown people or in unfamiliar surroundings. This is a normal part of childhood development. However, when children grow older and continue to show unusually great fear in such situations, separation anxiety disorder could be the problem.

Children with separation anxiety disorder fear that something fatal or disastrous may happen to someone they care about if they are separated from them. Because of their fear, they may be overly clingy, have problems falling asleep, complain about headaches or stomachaches, or not want to go to school. If you are concerned that your child may have separation anxiety disorder, you should see a mental health professional for an accurate evaluation and diagnosis.

My daughter has been diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. Could the fact that she’s in day care have something to do with this?

The day-care program itself probably has little to do with this problem. The likely issue is that each time the child is left at day care the fears central to separation anxiety disorder are brought into focus for the child. If one parent typically drops the child off at the day-care facility, that parent is more likely to see the effects of the problem, and this process will make the situation more evident. Day care did not cause the separation anxiety disorder, however, the involvement of the day-care provider may be very helpful, and this can be addressed through the treating psychiatrist.

Will my child grow out of separation anxiety disorder, or should we seek treatment for this?

The symptoms of separation anxiety disorder may wax and wane with time and in relation to events in the life of the child. Various events may serve to promote or allay the fears of the child. Times of forced separation, such as parental work trips or expected participation, such as a scouting camp out, may temporarily worsen a situation that may have seemed to be somewhat resolved. It would be in the best interests of the child to have a professional evaluate the situation, and address the current treatment needs in an appropriate way for your child. And, if the problem resurfaces in a more serious fashion in the future, there already will be a method to get treatment in a timely manner.

How is separation anxiety disorder treated?

There are a number of commonly used treatments for separation anxiety disorder. You can learn more about treatment of separation anxiety disorder here.

Frequently Asked Questions about Separation Anxiety Disorder


Lynn Ponton, MD

APA Reference
Ponton, L. (2018). Frequently Asked Questions about Separation Anxiety Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/frequently-asked-questions-about-separation-anxiety-disorder/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.