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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Treatment of Separation Anxiety

08/10/2004

Question:

My 9 year old son seems happy and healthy. He has many friends and is very out going. Our problem is he will not spend the night away from home or let us spend the night away from home. He is fine during the day, he will go anywhere with his friends, he goes to school with no problem, but his dad and I have talked about going on a 6 night trip without him or his brother and leaving them with a sitter and he panics. He says he is worried that something will happen to us. We have talked about his fear and he says he tries not to worry, but he can`t help it. The trip we talked about taking is in two months and he is so worried about it already. He has come to me in the evening crying saying he doesn`t want us to go or at least not both of us. He doesn`t care if one of us goes, but not both of us together. He sleeps fine and never comes in our room at night. We are thinking about not going on this trip because he will be miserable which would make me miserable. I have had people tell me that I should take him to see someone and I think he will grow out of it. What is your advise?

Answer:

Separation anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder in young children, and as you describe, it can be extremely disruptive to a family, not to mention the child's development.  The good news is that it can be successfully treated by behavioral and or cognitive behavioral therapy and it rarely continues into adolescence. The problem is that it may take a long time to "grow out of it" so in the interim, the issue is whether your child's fears should dominate his life and disrupt your family functioning.   

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Response by:

Floyd R Sallee, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati