It is common for toddlers through preschool-aged children to experience anxiety upon separation from their parents, as displayed by crying or clinging behavior. Usually, toddlers and young children can often be soothed or distracted from their anxiety. Their anxiety usually subsides as they become acquainted with the new environment. Some children continue to display separation anxiety long after it is expected or typical and may have separation anxiety disorder.
Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by age-inappropriate, excessive fear of being away from parents or home. Children with this disorder experience great distress when they separate or anticipate separating from loved ones or home. They continue to experience distress throughout the duration of the separation and may complain of physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches. Children with separation anxiety disorder often refuse to attend school, sleepovers, or play-dates, unless their parents attend with them. If they do attend activities without their parents, they may frequently “check-in” with their parents via telephone calls or texts. When they are at home with their parents, they may follow their parents around the house, become upset when they are in a different room from their parents, and sleep near or with their parents. Often, children with separation anxiety disorder worry about something bad happening to them or their parents during separation, such that they would never see their loved ones again.
Approximately 4% of children have separation anxiety disorder. The onset of this disorder typically occurs in early or middle childhood and is more common in girls than boys.
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