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The symptoms of separation anxiety are fairly easy to identify in children, but they must be persistent and severe enough to interfere with everyday life, such as going to school or forming relationships in other social situations, in order to receive a formal diagnosis of separation anxiety from a mental health professional. The most common symptoms of separation anxiety are when a child will experience severe anxiety whenever he or she is separated from a person to whom he or she is attached, such as a parent or caregiver. The child may also be frequently worried or experience nightmares that something bad will happen to the caregiver.
The particular manifestations of this disorder can vary in kids. Some will get very upset, and may start crying at the idea of being separated or at the actual separation. Others may get angry and strike out at anyone nearby, or may throw a tantrum. Parents are the ones who will best be able to identify the anxiety when it starts. One of the more common symptoms of separation anxiety is for kids to get very clingy and refuse to leave their caregiver's side; this may often manifest when kids refuse to go to school in the morning, or refuse to go to bed by themselves.
Kids with separation anxiety might often complain of stomachaches or headaches when they do not wish to be separated from their parent or caregiver. These may be considered symptoms of separation anxiety, or simply side effects of the other symptoms of the disorder. If kids get very upset, some may even experience nausea or vomiting. This is less common, though some children with severe separation anxiety may have these issues more frequently, and this could be a signal that it is time to seek professional help. Nightmares and worrying are also very common symptoms of separation anxiety.
Children suffering from this disorder may often have specific nightmares that something bad has happened to the person they are attached to. They might experience homesickness if they go to a friend's house, or be unable to sleep away from home, due to this fear. Children with separation anxiety also frequently worry that they will become lost, or that they will be kidnapped.
Some parents can help their children deal with their symptoms of separation anxiety by having frequent conversations about their worries and fears. Other kids will need additional help from a mental health professional to prevent the separation anxiety from getting worse or from interrupting daily life. These symptoms may be more common in smaller families that are more close knit, but they can occur in any child.