Separation anxiety may be a normal when it comes to young kids who are afraid of leaving the company of their parents. However, when this fear occurs in children over six years of age, is serious, and lasts longer than a month, the child may be experiencing separation anxiety disorder. This condition occurs when a child becomes very nervous and afraid when he or she is away from home or being separated from a parent or other close person. Besides the emotional symptoms that a child may experience, he or she may also develop physical symptoms. The fear of separation is very intense and may intrude on the child’s everyday activities, like attending school.
The condition affects about 4 to 5 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 7 to 11. It occurs in teenagers, as well, though less commonly. It affect about 1.3 percent of teens in the US. The following symptoms can warn a parent if his or her child has separation anxiety disorder. The child may experience:
A persistent worry that something will happen to the parent or caregiver. A persistent worry that something will happen to the child. Fear of isolation. Separation nightmares. Physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches. Temper tantrums or begging. Refusal to go to school.
Refusal to sleep without the presence of the parent or caregiver.
Separation anxiety usually develops after a big and stressful change in the child’s life. This may include moving away, changing schools, or dealing with the death of a loved one.
Children with over-protective parents may be more susceptible to this condition. It may not always be the child’s disease, but the parent may feed the child’s anxiety, too. Children with separation anxiety usually have family members that suffer from mental disorders including other types of anxiety. Therefore, separation anxiety may be inherited from a parent.
When it comes to diagnosis, signs and symptoms are important. If a doctor sees that symptoms are present, he or she will perform a complete evaluation with physical exams and medical history. Even though there are no lab tests that diagnose this condition specifically, the doctor may order a variety of tests like blood tests and X-rays to rule out other kinds of illness. If no physical illness seems to be present, the doctor may refer the child to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These professionals will interview and evaluate the child for mental illness. Mild cases of separation anxiety disorder usually do not need medical attention. Treatment may be needed in severe cases, like if the child does not go to school. The treatment aims to reduce anxiety levels of the child, help create a sense of security, and educate the child and family about normal separations. Treatment may include psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or family therapy. Further, medication may help treat serious cases of separation anxiety. Chances of recovery are better if treatment is started early and if it involves the family, as well as the child.