Separation Anxiety

Recognizing Signs & Tips for Parents

Children can experience separation anxiety for a variety of reasons.


1. Death of a close relative

2. Chronic illness of a child or a close relative

3. Change of schools, moving to a new neighborhood

4. Starting school for the first time

Anxiety can be present when the possiblity of separation exists to the child and then the child uses behaviors s/he believes will avoid the separation. For example, the child may resist attending school (even leaving home for college), going to bed without someone staying with them until they fall asleep, nightmares, unable to stay away from home overnight in fear of losing parent/primary caregiver or harm coming to parent while the child is away.

Depending on the age of these symptoms, treatment is varied. Typically if a child is going to experience separation anxiety s/he will do so before the age of 2 years. However, this can happen anytime before the age of 18.

Tips that are helpful to include:

1) Help child to feel safe look at the environment and habits in the household and make any necessary adjustments

2) Help your child trust others (give them ways to know who and how to trust others)

3) Give your child assurance that you will return: a familiar code when you decide on “pinky swear,” or “cross my heart”

4) Be sure the child is rested and not hungry when you leave; leaving during mealtime or naptime is helpful

5) Introduce new people and places gradually: take your child and introduce a new teacher or caregiver before dropping them off for the first time

6) Be calm and consistent when separating from your child and give your full attention to them to say goodbye explaining that you will be back after “naptime,” or “lunchtime,” or some time marker they can understand

7) Follow through on promises

Kids understand when behaviors work that they use to disrupt the separation and they will continue to use those behaviors as long as the parent allows the behaviors to work. For example, the caregiver comes running back and/or cancels plans the child understands that the separation is now avoided. So they will continue to throw temper tantrums, cry uncontrollaby, or whatever behaviors results in the caregiver staying.

After consistently applying changes in the household and with the caregiver these behaviors should begin to decrease. If these behaviors become more persistent, lasting longer than 4 weeks, even after implenting the changes, seeking professional help is recommended.

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