So how can you tell whether your child’s separation issues are part of a normal phase versus something more? Here are some guidelines that will help you determine whether or not a child suffers from separation anxiety.
Does my child have separation anxiety?
Children with separation anxiety disorders typically exhibit some of the following behaviors:
1. A refusal to be soothed, held, or comforted by a substitute caregiver. This is often a tell-tale sign of an anxiety disorder. Many young children fuss about leaving their mom or dad, but if they seem unable or unwilling to attach to anyone else, this is often a sign of deeper issues.
2. Physical manifestations such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea or vomiting may occur during or after separations.
3. Expressing concern that something will happen to you (or to them) while you’re away.
4. Fears that they might be lost, kidnapped, forgotten about or accidentally left somewhere.
5. Throwing tantrums whenever a parent departs or the child is asked to separate.
6. Seeming cold, distant or angry upon the parent’s return.
7. Ritualistically keeping tabs of a parent’s movements or feeling a need to repeatedly call them throughout the day.
8. Refusing to sleep in their own rooms or trying to stay home from school.
Examples of separation anxiety in children
Here are a few examples of children whose symptoms and behavior would meet the criteria for a diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder:
A) Mark, a 5-year-old boy, constantly worries about his mother. Whenever she leaves for any reason, he’ll repeatedly ask questions about where she is going, how long she’ll be gone, and what time she will return. He becomes highly distressed upon being left with other caretakers, and it limits their ability to go out. Mark often expresses concerns that his mother would die if they were not together.
B) An 8-year-old girl, Melissa, calls her mother repeatedly on her cell phone whenever she’s at work to find out when she will be coming home. She experiences extreme anxiety in sleeping over at friends’ homes, and has difficulty falling asleep even in her own home if her mother is not around. She often asks her mother to lie down with her prior to going to sleep, and on evenings when her mother works late (well past Melissa’s bedtime), she would stay awake until her mother returned home.
C) Jared, a 7-year-old boy, has trouble separating from his parents to go to school in the morning. He also worries about getting picked up on time, and will express concerns that stormy weather might interfere with a prompt pickup, or that his parents might forget and be late. He also exhibits a phobia about his parents being out of sight. For example, he is unable to participate in sports practice if his parents are not within his field of vision. Jared also expresses worries that his parents might die or that he would be taken away and not see them again. His separation anxiety was increasingly interfering with his ability to attend birthday parties or other social events.