Separation anxiety in children is a normal part of social development. However, if severe symptoms persist beyond age two, psycho evaluation may be needed to determine whether or not there is an anxiety disorder present.
In adults, it is usually categorized as
generalized anxiety disorder,
or a symptom of
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
due to abandonment issues from childhood.
In children it is a developmental stage during which the child experiences anxiety when separated from the primary care giver (usually the mother). It is normally seen between 8 and 14 months of age.
As infants develop, they experience various emotions, usually in a relatively predictable sequence. Before 8 months, infants are so new to the world that they have little knowledge of what is ordinary and what may be dangerous, so new situations or experiences seem usual, not frightening.
In normal development, this early period involves the establishment of familiarity with the home environment, and a feeling of safety and comfort when parents or other known caretakers are present. After this time, lack of familiarity often produces fear because the infant recognizes that something unusual is going on.
From 8 to 14 months, children often become frightened when they meet new people or visit new places. They recognize their parents as familiar and safe. When separated from parents, or other well known adults such as a grandparent, particularly when away from home, they feel threatened and unsafe.
It usually ends around 2 years old, when toddlers begin to understand that parents may be out of sight now, but will return later. At this age, there is also a normal desire to test their autonomy.
Resolution of separation anxiety depends on an adequate sense of safety and trust in people other than parents, trust and safety in their home environment, and trust in their parent's return.
Even after children have successfully mastered this developmental stage, separation anxiety may return during periods of stress.
Most children will experience some degree of separation anxiety when in unfamiliar situations, especially when separated from parents.
When children are in stressful situations (such as illness or pain), they seek the safety, comfort, and protection of their parents. When the parents cannot be with their children in these situations, the child experiences distress.
This is why it is important to stay with your child as much as is possible during any medical procedures. Your presence can actually reduce the amount of pain the child experiences, as anxiety of any kind makes pain worse.
Excessive distress when separated from the primary caregiver
Worry about losing or harm coming to the primary caregiver
Recurrent reluctance to go to school or other places because of fear of separation
Reluctance to go to sleep without the significant adult nearby
Repeated physical complaints