Separation anxiety: A developmental stage during which a child experiences anxiety when separated from the primary care giver (usually the mother). Separation anxiety is normal between 8 months of age and may last until 14 months old.
In young children, their unwillingness to leave a parent or a caregiver is a sign that attachments have developed between the caregiver and child. They are beginning to understand that each object (including people) in the environment is different and permanent. Young children cannot yet understand time, therefore they do not know when or even if you will ever come back. Children at this stage are struggling between feelings of striking out on their own and yet wanting to stay safe by a parent or caregiver's side.
Although separation anxieties are normal among infants and toddlers, they are not appropriate for older children or adolescents and may represent symptoms of separation anxiety disorder. To reach the diagnostic threshold for this disorder, the anxiety or fear must cause distress or affect social, academic, or job functioning and must last at least 1 month. Children with separation anxiety may cling to their parent and have difficulty falling asleep by themselves at night. When separated, they may fear that their parent will be involved in an accident or take ill, or in some other way be "lost" to the child forever. Their need to stay close to their parent or home may make it difficult for them to attend school or camp, stay at friends' houses, or be in a room by themselves. Fear of separation can lead to dizziness, nausea, or palpitations.
See also: Separation anxiety disorder.