Childhood Separation Anxiety

Childhood separation anxiety can cause anxiety attacks in children due to a psychological condition causing excessive fear and anxiety of separation, loss, or anxiety of feeling abandoned by a close loved one such as a parent to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment that contributed to ones sense of safety, security and companionship.

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother's side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent." ~ Erich Fromm

Mothers and their offspring start bonding while the child grows in the safety of the mother’s womb. Once the child is born and the physical attachment is cut the psychological and emotional attachments begin.

This is such a strong attachment that when this bond is threatened the child panics with fear of being abandoned. Yet, if the bond never takes place, if a mother deserts or neglects the child this leaves a definite void in their lives.

The balance of the mother/child bond is based on trust that will develop once the child knows that the mother will return. Many mothers have found that it is easier on the child when they leave them with a caretaker for very small increments of time – a trip to the store and return – this puts less anxiety on the child for a shorter period of time. The child slowly develops the reassurance that allows them to relax in the knowledge that they will be reunited.

Anxiety attacks in children may become more recognizable if you correlate the changes taking place in their life with the behaviors they are exhibiting. In some aspects childhood separation anxiety is normal as they take steps to enter the world and leave the safety of their parents and home.

Childhood Separation Anxiety mother and baby

It is most recognizable when these anxiety attacks in children develop within the first year of life when a baby and their parents, mostly the mother, develop strong bonds as the baby relies on the mother for not only food and shelter but warmth, love and security. The baby learns to recognize and link the smell of the mother and the sound of the mother’s voice with safety and security over just the first months.

If the child is kept secluded from interaction with others this causes anxiety when the mother chooses to leave the baby for a period of time when returning to work or simply going shopping for a matter of hours. The child has no reassurance that the mother will return and at this stage does not have any concept of time. This is evident when the baby cannot be satisfied and will cry endlessly. It is important that the child be introduced to a variety of stimulus and multiple individuals at least after a couple of months of growth to lesson or dissolve this anxiety.

Childhood Separation Anxiety child mother in bed As the child ages childhood separation anxiety can even manifest itself and interfere with the child’s ability to go to bed in a room by themselves where they may feel detached from the safety of the parent. This anxiety attack in children can also produce nightmares of separation as the child is fearful of being alone or abandoned.



This anxiety, until overcome, will prevent an overnight stay at grandma’s house or in any other situation that may require the child to be away from home for a night. It is advisable for the adult to use techniques such as sitting to read to the child before leaving the room, leave a small nightlight on or assure the child that you are right outside the door. Communication is best to resolve these anxieties before they escalate.

Childhood Separation Anxiety first day of school

Another form of childhood separation anxiety is through the developmental stages of life such as leaving the home to attend school. Although at this point the child understands they will be reunited it is the simple anxiety and fear of being detached from the parent and moving forward alone into the unknown. In some cases the child will refuse to go or detach themselves from the parent due to extreme fear of this separation.

There may be times when you can take the child to the school and get them to feel more at ease in this environment. The same may be done with riding a bus. If you have city buses available to you it is possible to take a ride and discuss how it will be on the first ride to school, this allows them to attach some form of normalcy to taking a trip on a bus.

When determining a diagnosis of childhood separation anxiety the health care professional will look at the following symptoms, frequency of occurrence and the length of duration of these episodes.

  • Excessive worrying that some event will lead to separation
  • Excessive fear about being alone
  • Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep
  • Recurring distress when separated
  • Excessive worrying about losing the loved one
  • Recurrent nightmares about separation
  • Anxiety attacks in children associated with childhood separation anxiety may be referred for counseling if they are in an acceptable age range. This will help the child talk out their fears and resolve their insecurities and also to share techniques with the parents to help reduce the feelings of these anxieties and ease the child into independence. Behavior modification may also be used in counseling to attempt to alter the way the child views what is causing their anxieties.

    As a parent you may want to get a wealth of information to cover different situations and how to help your child cope with their ever changing and growing life. There are books available to help you learn what to look for and how to help your child Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal is a Step-by-Step Guide for Parents to give them knowledge of what to
    expect as well as how to deal with their child’s anxieties.

    There are many books made for children that the parent can read and discuss with the child to open the communication and lesson the fears. Some of these are listed below if you click on the link it will let you read more of what the book is about.

    I Love You All Day Long

    When I Miss You

    Jake Starts School

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    Other Related Links

    From Childhood Separation Anxiety to Social Anxiety Disorder
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