Separation Anxiety: Diagnosis

For a diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder, a clinician looks for distress in being separated from—or anticipating separation from—parents or caregivers that’s excessive for a child’s age and prevents him from participating in age-appropriate activities. Symptoms include: worry about losing parents or other attachment figures though illness or death; unreasonable fear of an event that causes separation (getting lost, say, or being kidnapped); reluctance or refusal to leave home for school; undue fear of sleeping or being alone; persistent nightmares about separation; and physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches) in conjunction with separation or anticipation of separation.

To meet the criteria for separation anxiety disorder, the child must have the symptoms for at least 4 weeks.