What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?
As its name implies, separation anxiety disorder is diagnosed when children develop intense anxiety, even to the point of panic, as a result of being separated from a parent or other loved one. It often appears suddenly in a child who has shown no previous signs of a problem.
This anxiety is so intense that it interferes with children’s normal activities. They refuse to leave the house alone, visit or sleep at a friend’s house, go to nursery or school, or go on errands. At home, they may cling to their parents or “shadow” them by following closely on their heels. Often, they complain of stomachaches, headaches, nausea and vomiting. They may have heart palpitations and feel dizzy and faint. Many children with this disorder have trouble falling asleep and may try to sleep in their parents’ bed. If barred, they may sleep on the floor outside the parents’ bedroom. When they are separated from a parent, they become preoccupied with morbid fears that harm will come to them, or that they will never be reunited.
Separation anxiety may give rise to what is known as school phobia. Children refuse to attend school because they fear separation from a parent, not because they fear the academic environment. Sometimes they have mixed fears; fear of leaving the parents as well as fear of the school environment.