Separation Anxiety


Separation Anxiety


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Separation anxiety is one of the most common types of anxiety experienced by children. It is the overwhelming feeling brought about by the fear of separation from a particular caregiver, usually a parent. This can be experienced either over a short or long period of time. This type of anxiety is so painful because it is experienced, anticipated, and often felt many times within your normal routine. Separation anxiety is common in the baby and toddler years, though as your child reaches school age these issues should generally improve, however don’t stress if it is experienced when your child first starts school or changes schools. Tears, trying to hide and avoiding others when being dropped off at a new surrounding such as a new classroom are to be expected and should improve as they become familiar with their peers, new adults and different surroundings.

These are some signs your child is experiencing separation anxiety

  • Visibly distressed when separating from caregiver eg crying, screaming, clinginess, shaking with fear
  • Tantrums that are not age appropriate
  • Complaining of symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches for no medical reason
  • Difficulty falling asleep alone
  • Nightmares
  • Avoids activities such as playdates, sleepovers, catching the bus home from school as your child prefers to be in your company
  • Becomes emotional when anticipating saying goodbye.

Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development, though in some children it can be very severe and occurring in children much older than what is developmentally normal, this can be indicator of a more serious condition known as separation anxiety disorder. SAD (separation anxiety disorder) is diagnosed when symptoms are excessive for your child’s developmental age and cause significant difficulty in daily functioning. Separation anxiety disorder will not generally go away on its own and requires professional intervention otherwise it may lead to more complex issues such as panic attacks and other anxiety disorders later in life.


As emotional as it can be for parents who are dealing with separation anxiety, there are many things that you can do to help

  • Discuss transitions and separations during your child’s day and create a visual schedule to help your child anticipate these transitions. Include transitions such as bedtime, parent leaving for work, school drop off, after school care, sporting activities etc
  • Have a consistent goodbye routine and use it at every farewell. It may be as simple as a phrase “love you, see you later”, a high five, a hug or a special tickle. The routine needs to be simple and predictable and used regularly.
  • Use a ‘transitional object’ with your child, perhaps a comfort toy, a special piece of jewellery or a photo of you both together.
  • Discuss with your child the feelings that they are experiencing, generally they will be experiencing fears of being abandoned, lack of control, fear and being unable to survive without you.
  • Give your child some control of transitions and farewells that are difficult, for instance, agree to do one activity in the classroom before leaving, rather than leaving them at the door.
  • Planning for new experiences and transitions is important, perhaps visiting the new school and meeting their teacher before their first day will make them become familiar with their new surroundings
  • Provide praise and positive reinforcement to your child as they progressively learn to separate from you more easily.
  • Avoid removing the triggers. Though it may be easier to avoid parties and playdates and many other activities that causes your child anxiety, they may be left to live a very limited life if they avoid anything that makes them anxious.
  • Make your child feel confident by reassuring them that though it might feel scary, they can overcome these feels.

It is important that you seek professional help for your child if their separation anxiety is not improving over time, if it is becoming worse and if it is negatively impacting your child’s day, for example their school attendance is being affected. Share your concerns with professionals such as your child’s teacher, school chaplain, GP or paediatrician who will be able to help with strategies or will be able to refer you on to other professionals such as a child psychologist or psychiatrist.

In most cases parents will be able to help their child move past these fears of separation through kindness, consistency and positive support.

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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].