While anxiety disorders are more common in adolescents and adults, they can occur in children as young as six months. When a child has a strong emotional attachment to a parent, guardian, or caregiver, they can suffer from separation anxiety when they are removed from that person’s proximity. Some separation anxiety is a normal part of the maturation process, as it demonstrates growth in the child’s cognitive function – they are able to understand that their parent, guardian, or caregiver will return after some time has passed. This growth allows the child to understand the concept of object permanence; they learn that even when something is removed from their sensory input, such as when they can no longer see or hear it, that does not mean it no longer exists.
However, if there is an effect on the child’s social or emotional ability to function, the child can be said to suffer from separation anxiety disorder. This is generally marked by behaviors of avoidance. A child with separation anxiety disorder might complain about a variety of physical symptoms that will require them to remain with their caregiver, such as a headache or stomach ache. Others might avoid the environment where they are removed from the one they have an emotional attachment to; they might insist they don’t want to go to school or daycare, for example. Others might become dependent upon what are known as safety behaviors, such as repeated phone calls to their parent or guardian. All of these actions demonstrate an inability to function normally when removed from the individual they have a close relationship with, a hallmark of separation anxiety disorder.