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Separation anxiety in children and teenagers

It is thought that up to 4% of children suffer with diagnosable separation anxiety1.

Whilst it’s very normal for young children to display distress when separated from their primary care givers, some children suffer with separation anxiety throughout their childhood and others only develop it later on.

In fact, the average age for the onset of separation anxiety is 72 and both teenagers and adults can suffer with the symptoms.

If you are worried about your child or teenager then call 0203 761 7026 or request a call back. You can speak to one of our clinical advisors who will help advise you


Separation anxiety is defined as ‘developmentally inappropriate, excessive, persistent and unrealistic worry about separation from attachment figures’3. It is characterised by:

  • Extreme anxiety before impending separation
  • Extreme worry and anxiety during the separation including restlessness and crying
  • Excessive worrying about the caregivers’ health and safety
  • Fixation on thoughts of accidents or death during separation
  • Difficulties sleeping far from caregiver, (sleepovers and school trips may be unmanageable)
  • Nightmares based on the theme of separation
  • Reluctance or refusal to attend school
  • Somatic responses such as headaches, stomach aches and vomiting

Separation anxiety in children can be hugely distressing and frustrating for parents, particularly if the child needs to be regularly left with other people due to work or other commitments.

My child doesn’t like going to other people. Should I worry?

It’s very normal for children to go through stages of being ‘clingy’, but if your child regularly has anxiety when separated from you or if it is impacting on their ability to engage in normal daily tasks such as attending school or parties then we would recommend seeking help. You can read here about the causes of anxiety.

What can be done to help?

We hear from parents everyday who have tried numerous techniques to help their child with separation anxiety but to no avail.

If you have a child with separation anxiety, the daily routine may be incredibly stressful and attending events without your child or going out for the evening can be impossible. Whilst each child needs to be treated individually, cognitive behavioural therapies, other talking therapies, parenting support and even antidepressants can all help immensely. The first step is to receive a diagnosis and from there the best treatment option can be decided.

Clinical Partners help hundreds of families, like yours, every year in overcoming anxiety disorders. Call 0203 761 7026 to speak to someone today about how we can help.

1 Walkup, J.T., Albano A.M., Placentin J. et al (2008) CBT, Sertraline or a combination in childhood anxiety, The New England Journal of Medicine vol 359, No 26, pp2753-2766
2 Last, C.G., Perrin, S., Hersen, M. et al. (1992) DSM-III-R Anxiety disorders in children: sociodemographic and clinical characteristics in Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Vol 31, No. 6, pp1070-6
3 DSM-IV

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