Young children often develop anxiety when the major caretaker in their lives leaves, even for a short while. Parents frequently leave in the midst of tears and tantrums. This is a normal part of development and shows that a child and parent have a strong bond.
Separation anxiety normally begins around the age of 7-8 months, when a baby discovers a parent is a unique person and begins to differentiate them from the rest of the people that may be around them. At this age, they may cry any time a parent is out of their site. This anxiety can last up to the age of 18 months. Some babies, however, develop separation anxiety symptoms later and some do not ever show any anxiety when separated from parents.
Toddlers may become emotional when parents leave, however, at this age children can be distracted by activities around them and may quickly adjust to being without a parent for a period of time.
Normal separation anxiety can become worse during periods of high emotions, such as when over-tired, change of routines, holidays, or family situations like the birth of a sibling, death of a family member, divorce or illness.
By the age of five, when most children enter school, separation anxiety is normally minimal. Children may have a difficult time adjusting but this often only lasts a few minutes. At this age, children have learned to understand they will be reunited with their parents and feel secure enough to be left with a babysitter or at school without experiencing a high level of anxiety.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
For some children, however, separation anxiety disorder can impede a child’s ability to attend school. According to Helpguide.org, approximately 4% of children between the ages of six and twelve are impacted by separation anxiety disorder. Both boys and girls seem to be affected at the same rate.
Children with separation anxiety disorder fear both the idea that they will not see their family again and that something bad will happen to their family while they are not with them. They often become isolated, not wanting to be with friends and away from their family. In addition, they may avoid attending school because of their fear of leaving family members.