We have spoken of separation anxiety before, as being a common developmental phase and one that is particularly common among toddlers. Though most kids outgrow the separation anxiety phase of their life by the time they are past their third birthday, this is also a problem among older children at times, though the underlying reasons for this could be different.
When a child below the age of 18 shows an excessive anxiety about the impending departure of any one close to them such as a parent or other family member, it could be separation anxiety disorder. The disorder has to be differentiated from the normal developmental phase that children undergo, but typically outgrow.
Here the child may worry excessively about something bad happening to the caregiver or other person and may be very distressed about the parting to the extent that this may impair normal functioning.
Factors that could contribute to separation anxiety
A significant life changing event such as relocating to a different home, city or school could cause anxiety in a child. The arrival of a younger sibling could also create stress and anxiety in an older child.
Bereavement in the form of the loss of a close relative, a pet or a dear friend may be traumatic enough that a child may display signs of separation anxiety.
Parental discord and resultant separation or divorce can also create anxiety, as may a change in the child’s principal caregiver.
Some of the symptoms of separation anxiety in older children:
- If a child fears getting to sleep or sleeping by themselves; if they insist on sleeping with the parent or a sibling
- If other nighttime problems such as nightmares and so on are frequent features
- If the child is frequently seen to act out by bad behavior, tantrums and distress when there is going to be a period of separation from the primary attachment figure.
- Missing the person excessively when they are not around
- The child fearing that something terrible will happen either to that person or to the child themselves; that they may be kidnapped, hurt or get lost.
- At times there may be physical manifestations of the anxiety that the child suffers from – he or she may have nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, headaches and even palpitations.
- The child could become panicked at the change of a plan or if a parent is late and so on
- The child may be afraid of or reluctant to be alone,
- The child may want to avoid school and other activities such as going away to camp