Diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder involves figuring out whether your child is going through a typical stage of development or if the symptoms are serious enough to be considered separation anxiety disorder. After ruling out any medical conditions, your child's pediatrician may refer you to a mental health professional with expertise in anxiety disorders in children.

To help diagnose separation anxiety disorder, a mental health professional will likely talk with you and your child, usually together and also separately. Sometimes called a psychological evaluation, a structured interview involves talking about thoughts and feelings and behavior.


Separation anxiety disorder is usually treated first with psychotherapy. Sometimes medicine also is used if therapy alone isn't working. Psychotherapy involves working with a trained therapist to lessen separation anxiety symptoms.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective form of therapy for separation anxiety disorder. Exposure treatment, a part of CBT, has been found to be helpful for separation anxiety. During this type of treatment your child can learn how to face and manage fears about separation and uncertainty. Also, parents can learn how to effectively give emotional support and encourage independence that suits the child's age.


Sometimes, combining medicine with CBT may be helpful if anxiety symptoms are severe and a child isn't making progress in therapy alone. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be an option for older children and adults.

Lifestyle and home remedies

While separation anxiety disorder gets better with professional treatment, you also can take these steps to help ease your child's separation anxiety:

  • Learn about your child's separation anxiety disorder. Talk to your child's mental health professional to learn about the condition and help your child understand it.
  • Follow the treatment plan. Keep the therapy appointments for your child. Consistency makes a big difference.
  • Take action. Learn what triggers your child's anxiety. Practice the skills learned from the mental health professional so you're ready to deal with your child's anxious feelings during separations.

Coping and support

Coping with a child who has separation anxiety disorder can be frustrating and cause conflict with family members. It also can cause a great deal of worry and anxiety for parents.

Ask your child's therapist for advice on coping and support. For example, the therapist may suggest you:

  • Show calm support. Encourage your child to try new experiences, experience separation and develop independence with your support. Model bravery when facing your own distress to help when your child is facing fears.
  • Practice goodbyes. Leave your child with a trusted caregiver for short periods of time to help your child learn that you will return.

It's also important to have supportive relationships for yourself, so you can better help your child.

Preparing for your appointment

If you think your child may have separation anxiety disorder, start by seeing your child's pediatrician. The pediatrician may refer you to a mental health professional with expertise in anxiety disorders.

What you can do

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Your child's symptoms. Note when they occur, whether anything seems to make them better or worse, and how much they affect day-to-day activities and interactions.
  • What causes your child to be anxious. Include any major life changes or stressful events your child dealt with recently, as well as any past traumatic experiences.
  • Any family history of mental health problems. Note if you, your spouse, your parents, grandparents, siblings or your other children have struggled with any mental health problems.
  • Any health problems your child has. Include both physical health conditions and mental health problems.
  • All medicines that your child takes. Also include any vitamins, herbs or other supplements, and the doses.
  • Questions to ask the healthcare professional or mental health professional.

Questions to ask may include:

  • What do you think is causing or worsening the anxiety?
  • Are any tests needed?
  • What type of therapy might help?
  • Would medicine help? If so, is there a generic option?
  • Besides professional treatment, are there any steps I can take at home that might help?
  • Do you have any materials that can help me learn more? What websites do you suggest?

Feel free to ask other questions during the appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

The mental health professional is likely to ask you questions. For example:

  • What are your child's symptoms, and how severe are they? How do they affect your child's ability to do daily activities?
  • When did you first begin noticing your child's separation anxiety?
  • How do you respond to your child's anxiety?
  • What, if anything, seems to make your child's anxiety worse? What makes it better?
  • Has your child had any traumatic experiences recently or in the past?
  • What, if any, physical or mental health conditions does your child have?
  • Does your child take any medicines?
  • Do you or any of your blood relatives have ongoing anxiety or other mental health conditions, such as depression?

Be ready to answer questions so that you have time to talk about what's most important to you.

June 12, 2024
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  5. Anxiety and children. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Anxious-Child-047.aspx. Accessed April 11, 2024.
  6. Alvarez E, et al. Psychotherapy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 11, 2024.
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Separation anxiety disorder