Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a type of mental health problem. A child with SAD worries a lot about being apart from family members or other close people. The child has a fear of being lost from their family or of something bad occurring to a family member if he or she is not with the person.
All children and teens feel some anxiety. It is a normal part of growing up. Separation anxiety is normal in very young children. Nearly all children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old have separation anxiety and are clingy to some degree. But the symptoms of SAD are more severe. A child must have symptoms of SAD for at least 4 weeks for the problem to be diagnosed as SAD. A child with SAD has worries and fears about being apart from home or family that are not right for his or her age.
Experts believe SAD is caused by both biological and environmental factors. A child may inherit a tendency to be anxious. An imbalance of 2 chemicals in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) most likely plays a part.
A child can also learn anxiety and fear from family members and others. A traumatic event may also cause SAD.
SAD happens equally in males and females. But children who have parents with an anxiety disorder are more likely to have SAD.
The first symptoms of SAD often appear around the third or fourth grade. They may start after a break from school, such as during holidays or summer, or after a long-term sickness. Each child may have different symptoms. But the most common signs of SAD are:
The symptoms of SAD may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A child psychiatrist or other mental health expert can diagnose SAD. He or she will do a mental health evaluation of your child. For your child to be diagnosed with SAD, his or her worry or fear about being away from family members must last for at least 4 weeks.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment for SAD often involves a mix of the following:
Experts don’t know how to prevent SAD in children and teens. But if you notice signs of SAD in your child, you can help by seeking an evaluation as soon as possible. Early treatment can lessen symptoms and enhance your child’s normal development. It can also improve your child’s quality of life.
As a parent, you play a key role in your child’s treatment. Here are things you can do to help:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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