During the toddler years, children become anxious and irritable when parents are not around. This can happen even if the parent is just in the other room, but out of the vision of the young child. This is normal behavior and normally, children of this age can be distracted and brought into another activity to help relieve their distress. Usually, this distraction will help a child feel better about the separation from the parent and he or she will engage in play. Usually, around the age of four, children begin to feel more comfortable being left in the care of someone besides Mom or Dad.
Sometimes, however, children become extremely distressed even past the age of four years old. These children may have Separation Anxiety Disorder. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, up to four percent of children have Separation Anxiety Disorder.
This type of anxiety causes a child to become extremely distressed when separated from parents, even to the extent they have a difficult time adjusting to being in school. Sometimes these children spend their time away from parents worrying about the parent, their health and whether the parent is safe and will be able to return.
Although most children with Separation Anxiety Disorder begin to show symptoms between the ages of seven and nine, it can actually appear at any time.
Some signs your child may have Separation Anxiety Disorder:
- Children refuse to go to school, camp or try to avoid going places alone.
- Children do not seem to want to attend social events or sleepovers at other children’s houses but may be willing to have friends at their home.
- Children may follow a parent around, moving from room to room with the parent rather than playing in a different room.
- Trouble sleeping or having nightmares, specifically about being separated from family members.
- Wanting a parent to stay in their room while he or she falls asleep or waking up and needing to be near a parent.
If you believe your child may have Separation Anxiety Disorder, contact your family doctor. He or she will be able to rule out any medical illness that may be causing symptoms of anxiety and should be able to refer you to a mental health specialist in your area that has experience working with children.
“Anxiety Disorders in Children”, Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Anxiety Disorders Association of America
“Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders”, 2001, William T. Goldman, M.D., KeepKidsHealthy.com