A specific form of anxiety in children and youth (under the age of 18) is called separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is excessive worry about being away from home or about being away from major attachment figures, which is out of line for that child’s age and culture. Children with separation anxiety often fear that something will happen that will keep them away from their major attachment figures (e.g., getting lost) and they typically resist being alone or away from their major attachment figures.
Children with separation anxiety condition experience excessive distress when anticipating separation or being away from their major attachment figures (e.g., to attend school or recreational activities). They may experience persistent fears about their family being harmed or dying. Often, children with separation anxiety will ‘cling’ to their parents, experience difficulties sleeping, and have nightmares with themes related to separation. They may also refuse to go to sleep unless a major attachment figure is with them or they may only be able to sleep at home. They may also experience physical symptoms, such as stomach aches or headaches. These physical symptoms are typically in response to an anticipated separation or when the child is separated from their major attachment figures. Separation anxiety may be accompanied by depression, sadness, and withdrawal. About one in every 25 children experiences separation anxiety disorder.
Children who are diagnosed with separation anxiety experience these symptoms for longer than a month. Their symptoms interfere with their ability to go about day-to-day activities.