What is it?
Children with separation anxiety disorder experience significant fear and distress about being away from home or their caregivers. This fear affects a child’s ability to function socially and academically. For example, a child may have a hard time making friends or maintaining relationships because he or she refuses to go on playdates without a parent, or sleep without being near a parent or caregiver.
What causes separation anxiety disorder in a child?
Experts believe SAD is caused by both biological and environmental factors. A child may inherit a tendency to be anxious. An imbalance of 2 chemicals in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) most likely plays a part.
A child can also learn anxiety and fear from family members and others. A traumatic event may also cause SAD.
What are the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder in a child?
The first symptoms of SAD often appear around year 3. They may start after a break from school, such as during holidays or summer, or after a long-term sickness. Each child may have different symptoms. But the most common signs of SAD are:
Refusing to sleep alone
Repeated nightmares with a theme of separation
Lots of worry when parted from home or family
Too much worry about the safety of a family member
Too much worry about getting lost from family
Refusing to go to school
Fearful and reluctant to be alone
Frequent stomachaches, headaches, or other physical complaints
Muscle aches or tension
Too much worry about safety of self
Too much worry about or when sleeping away from home
Being very clingy, even when at home
Panic or temper tantrums at times of separation from parents or caregivers
Key points about separation anxiety disorder in children
SAD is a type of mental health problem. A child with SAD worries a lot about being apart from family members or other close people.
The cause of SAD is both biological and environmental.
Symptoms of SAD are more severe than the normal separation anxiety that nearly every child has to some degree between the ages of 18 months and 3 years of age.
A child must have symptoms that last at least 4 weeks to be considered SAD.
A mental health evaluation is needed to diagnose SAD.
Treatment includes therapy and medicines.