Overview:

Children with separation anxiety disorder experience extreme distress when they are separated from parents or caregivers. Besides fearing separation itself, children with separation anxiety sometimes worry that something horrible will happen to them or their family members when they are apart. The disorder is most common amongst preschoolers and children in early grammar school, and is highly treatable.

Symptoms:

  • An intense fear of being separated from parents or caregivers
  • Stomachaches, headaches and dizziness
  • An unwillingness to leave parents’ sides, even at home
  • Nightmares about separation
  • Defiant behavior when faced with separation

Treatment:

The first-line treatment is behavioral therapy. For more severe cases and for kids who do not respond well enough to therapy alone, a course of medication may be indicated.

Psychotherapeutic:

Treatment for separation anxiety disorder typically involves cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps children learn to manage their fears. This might include relaxation training, coping statements, and exposure therapy.

Because parents can inadvertently reinforce anxiety when they are comforting anxious children, treatment frequently also involves parent training on how to respond to anxiety.

Pharmacological:

SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, have proven successful in treating separation anxiety disorder. Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines are also effective, though they can be habit-forming.

Read more about separation anxiety and how it is treated.

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