Separation anxiety

Definition of Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is a developmental stage during which the child experiences anxiety when separated from the primary caregiver (usually the mother).

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

As infants develop, they experience various emotions, usually in a predictable order. Before 8 months, infants are so new to the world that they have little knowledge of what is ordinary and what may be dangerous, so new situations or experiences seem usual, and not frightening.

Signs and tests

There are no tests for this condition, because it is normal.


No treatment is necessary for ordinary separation anxiety.

Expectations (prognosis)

Young children with symptoms that improve after age 2 are normal, even if some anxiety comes back later during stress. When separation anxiety occurs in adolescence, it may signal the development of an anxiety disorder.


Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 4/26/2010

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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