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What Causes Separation Anxiety in Children?

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  • Written By: D. Nelson
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Separation anxiety is characterized by irrational feelings of worry or fear in an individual who is separated from a loved one or caregiver. It is common for children under the age of six to suffer from these symptoms when separated from a parent or guardian. When a child continues to suffer separation anxiety after the age of six, however, it is considered a disorder by many health specialists. Symptoms of separation anxiety in children may include nightmares abut being left alone, headaches and stomach aches, and attempts to avoid school to stay with a parent. Some causes of separation anxiety in children include trauma or parents who are too protective.

Trauma describes stress that can impair an individual's ability to function. Objects and situations that an individual associates with an original source of trauma can lead to the recurrence of feelings of fear. Illnesses that require hospitalization in early childhood are a common cause of trauma and often can lead to separation anxiety in children. If a child associates being separated from a caregiver with a time of great fear and uncertainty, such as hospitalization, separation anxiety can become extreme.

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Another kind of trauma that can cause separation anxiety in children is the death of a loved one. Children often do not understand death and may be more greatly affected by feelings of loss that can cause them to feel that something bad can happen whenever loved ones separate from them, even for short periods of time. Loss of a pet can also cause this anxiety.

Children who are moved from location to location also may suffer from separation anxiety. These children may feel that they lose friends quickly. Associations they feel in certain locations and within certain groups may seem fragile to them. A sense of unease and instability can manifest in separation anxiety.

Many specialists feel that separation anxiety in children often is a result of a caregiver's separation anxiety. In other words, if a child feels that his or her parent becomes anxious whenever leaving him or her alone or with a teacher or babysitter, a child may act out this anxiety. If a child feels that a caregiver is worried, he or she might feel that there is a rational reason to be afraid.

A number of children who experience separation anxiety come from families in which loved ones also suffer from anxiety and other mental disorders. For this reason, many experts believe that some children may have biological dispositions for anxiety. In some cases, however, separation anxiety can be a learned behavior.

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andee
Post 4

Is being homesick when you are a kid the same thing as separation anxiety, or would this just be considered generalized anxiety. When I was younger and away from home at camp or a friend's house I remember feeling really strange.

I would get a stomach ache and a strange physical feeling and I just wanted to be home. Once I got home the anxiety went away, but it is a strange feeling that is hard to describe if you have never experienced it.

Mykol
Post 3

I have seen kids with separation anxiety, but there is also such a thing as separation anxiety in dogs. They get very attached to their human caregivers and often go through separation anxiety when they are alone too long.

I work at a veterinary clinic and have seen this happen over and over again. Sometimes it happens more often as a dog gets older, but I have seen it happen in younger dogs too.

I think this is one of the reasons people pay the money to take their dog to doggie day care. This gives pet owners a place to take their dogs while they are at work so they don't have so much of a problem dealing with this.

golf07
Post 2

One of my friends adopted a baby from another country and he has separation anxiety disorder. He is 10 years old and still has a really hard time being away from his mom or dad.

He was not an infant when they adopted him, but was several months old. They have no idea what happened to him before that time, but it probably plays a big part in his separation anxiety.

julies
Post 1

When my first baby was born, I was a stay-at-home mom for the first two years. When I had to return to work, this was really hard for my daughter and she went through some toddler separation anxiety.

I think this is normal in children who are this young. They have no way of understanding why their mom is suddenly gone all day long when they were used to her being around all the time.

It took a few weeks before she got used to this new change and then she was fine. For awhile there she was really clingy and wouldn't let me out of her sight. I was very relieved when this gradually got better and she adjusted to me being gone more than I had been before.

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