Separation anxiety is characterized by an intense emotional reaction on the part of a young child to the departure of a person with whom the child has established an emotional attachment. Signs of separation anxiety, such as crying when the caregiver prepares to leave, typically emerge around six to eight months when infants have formed a representation of their caretakers as reliable providers of comfort and security. Distress reactions peak around fourteen to twenty months at which time toddlers may follow or cling to caregivers to prevent their departure. Although most children show signs of separation anxiety, the intensity of an individual child's distress varies depending on: (1) the availability of another caregiver with whom the child has a close bond; (2) the familiarity of the situation; (3) previous experience with the caretaker leaving; and (4) the child's sense of control over the situation. Gradually, separation anxiety becomes less intense and less frequent, diminishing by age two.
See also: ATTACHMENT; PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS; STRANGER ANXIETY
Bowlby, John. Attachment and Loss, Vol. 3:Loss. New York: Basic, 1980.
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