Health A-Z

Separation Anxiety

Clinical Definition

Separation anxiety can occur in children or adults. In children, it is a normal developmental stage, with anxiety occurring when separated from a primary caregiver, typically the mother. It typically disappears by age 2. Adults can also suffer from separation anxiety. In both adults and children, the condition may be classified as a disorder: adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD) and childhood separation anxiety disorder (CSAD) appear to parallel each other in certain ways.

In Our Own Words

Separation anxiety can affect both children and adults, and may be classified as a disorder when it meets certain criteria. In children, typically around 8 – 14 months, a toddler’s anxiety with separation from a primary caregiver is part of normal development. By about age 2, children begin to understand that caregivers go away but will return.

Adults can also be affected, a condition now known as adult separation anxiety disorder (ASAD). It often occurs along with other anxiety problems. Those affected may worry that harm will come to close loved ones if they are separated, and go to great lengths to stay in close contact. The anxiety can trigger panic attacks.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Anxiety
  • Fear that harm will befall loved ones
  • Nightmares
  • Reluctance to go to school or sleep
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