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What age is separation anxiety at its peak?

Separation anxiety is a normal part of development for children. It refers to distress and anxiety experienced by a child when separated from their primary caregiver or attachment figure, most often a parent. Separation anxiety peaks at different ages depending on the child, but often intensifies between 10-18 months of age and tends to improve between 2-3 years old. Understanding when separation anxiety is most common can help parents better support their child through this phase.

When Does Separation Anxiety Usually First Appear?

Most infants will show some signs of distress when separated from their caregiver in the first 6 months of life. Crying when a parent leaves the room or trying to crawl after them are normal separation anxiety behaviors in young infants. However, separation anxiety tends to peak and become more pronounced starting around 7-10 months old.

At this age, babies are more mobile and able to express anxiety through crying, clinging, and following caregivers. They are also more aware of their surroundings and routine. Being separated from parents seems unfamiliar and alarming. Separation anxiety often ramps up between 10-18 months as babies become even more aware of caregivers’ comings and goings.

Why Does Separation Anxiety Get Worse in the Second Year?

Separation anxiety worsens in the second year of life for a few key reasons:

Increased Mobility

Around 10 months, most babies can crawl efficiently and some walk. This allows them to actively follow their caregiver around the house. They can also escape playpens, baby gates, and other containment devices more easily. This mobility makes it harder for babies to be separated from their preferred caregiver.

Object Permanence

Around 8-10 months, babies develop object permanence or the understanding that objects continue to exist even when out of sight. Before this, babies lived in the “here and now” and had no concept that a parent still existed after leaving the room. With object permanence, babies now worry about a caregiver that has stepped away and can’t be seen.

Stranger Anxiety

Closely related to separation anxiety, stranger anxiety also emerges around 6-10 months. Babies become fearful, anxious, and distressed around new people. They prefer familiar faces. Being left with an unfamiliar babysitter or relative can provoke extreme separation anxiety.

Early Language Skills

Around 10-18 months, toddlers have a vocabulary explosion as they start putting words together and naming objects. Although limited, simple phrases like “mama go” and “dada bye-bye” reflect an understanding of people and events. This allows toddlers to express when they want their caregiver to stay or go.

Routine and Predictability

By one year old, babies become attached to their daily routine and familiar places. Disruption to naptime, playtime, feeding schedules or being in new environments can all trigger separation anxiety. Toddlers thrive when they know what to expect.

What Are the Peak Ages for Separation Anxiety?

While all children are unique, research indicates separation anxiety is most intense at these ages:

6-10 months

Most infants display mild distress at caregiver separation by 6 months. Anxiety escalates between 7-10 months as babies gain mobility and understand object permanence.

10-18 months

Separation anxiety is most pronounced in the second year of life as toddlers become extremely attached to their primary caregiver. Stranger anxiety, communication skills, and routine preferences all contribute.

15-17 months

On average, separation anxiety peaks around 15-17 months of age. One study found 77% of babies had intense separation anxiety at this age that involved crying, tantrums, and following mom or dad.

19-24 months

While separation anxiety starts to improve after 18 months, some toddlers continue to experience intense distress into their second year. Anxiety tends to decrease gradually between 19-24 months.

Age Separation Anxiety Behaviors
6-10 months Mild fussing or crying when caregiver leaves, crawls after caregiver
10-18 months Intense crying, tantrums, clinging, following caregiver, extreme stranger anxiety
15-17 months Peak of separation anxiety, crying, and distress
19-24 months Gradual improvement in separation anxiety

How Long Does Separation Anxiety Last?

For most children, intense separation anxiety lasts 4-6 months, on average. It may persist for longer, up to a year in some cases. While separation anxiety emerges as early as 4-6 months, it intensifies between 10-18 months for most kids. By age 2, most children have improved significantly. However, some children continue to struggle with separation anxiety up to preschool age.

Severe or chronic separation anxiety that does not improve by ages 3-4 may require intervention. Seeking professional help is recommended if anxiety disrupts daily life or school attendance.

Does Separation Anxiety Increase Again With Age?

Separation anxiety tends to follow a predictable pattern in childhood. It emerges around 6 months old, peaks between 10 and 18 months, and fades by age 2 or 3. Severe anxiety persisting past ages 4-5 is less common.

However, some research indicates separation anxiety may intensify again at other milestone ages:

4-5 Years Old

The start of preschool marks the first major separation from home all day. The longer duration of separation and new social environment can provoke anxiety at this age.

6-7 Years Old

Starting 1st grade involves another big transition and lengthy separation from parents. Some children feel intense anxiety about this change.

12 Years Old

The tween years bring huge hormonal and developmental changes. The desire for independence battles with prolonged childhood separation anxiety. Biological changes may renewal separation distress.

While separation anxiety naturally improves after the toddler years, resurgence around preschool, first grade, and the tween years is common. Parents should be aware of these vulnerable transition periods.

What Factors Influence When Separation Anxiety Peaks?

Many factors impact the emergence and intensity of separation anxiety. These include:

Child Temperament

Children with a shy, inhibited temperament seem prone to more intense separation anxiety. Outgoing, bold children may handle separation better. Temperament plays a large role.

Negative Past Separations

Traumatic separations like extended hospital stays or divorce can precipitate separation anxiety. Children may generalize negative experiences.


Stressful situations like moving, new sibling, or parent job change can heighten separation anxiety. Even positive stressors signal disruption to the child.

Parent-Child Attachment

Children with insecure attachment styles, like those who avoid or resist connecting with parents, seem more separation anxious. A secure parent-child bond facilitates healthier separation.

Parental Anxiety

Kids pick up on parents’ real or perceived anxiety about separation. Anxious parents sometimes unknowingly reinforce separation anxiety.

While separation anxiety follows a predictable developmental course, individual differences in severity and duration occur. Understanding influencing factors helps parents determine if anxiety is within normal limits or requires intervention. Most children outgrow peak separation anxiety by their third birthday without any long term effects.

Is There a Connection Between Separation Anxiety and Pandemic Lockdowns?

The Covid-19 pandemic introduced drastic changes to family life starting in early 2020. Daycares and schools closed, parents began working from home, and families sheltered in place together.

Many young children experienced limited separation from parents for extended periods. Research is still emerging on how this may impact separation anxiety. Some preliminary findings suggest:

Increased Prevalence

Studies indicate separation anxiety and related disorders increased in children during lockdowns and pandemic school disruptions.

Lasting Effects

Prolonged time together and lack of practice separating may cause greater distress when normal separations resume. This could lengthen the time kids struggle with separation anxiety.


Children who had overcome separation anxiety pre-pandemic may backslide and experience recurrence of intense distress with renewed separations.

No Difference

Some studies found no change or even improvement in separation anxiety levels in young children when normal activity resumed.

Overall, pandemic lockdowns and family isolation introduced unprecedented separation experiences. More time is needed to see if this disrupts the normal developmental trajectory of childhood separation anxiety. Targeted interventions may help highly anxious children readjust after the pandemic.

What Are Signs of Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Most young children experience expected distress when a parent leaves. However, severe, chronic anxiety may be a sign of a disorder. Separation Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed when anxiety disrupts normal functioning. Signs include:

– Frequent tantrums, crying, screaming when parent tries to leave

– Excessive worry about harm befalling parents or caregivers

– Refusing to sleep alone or go to school due to separation fears

– Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, vomiting when separation occurs

– Severe homesickness when away from home

– Chronic nightmares about separation

– Depression, social isolation, school avoidance

– Extreme clinginess that persists for over 6 months

– Anxiety that interferes with normal activities

Seeking evaluation from a pediatrician, psychologist, or mental health counselor is recommended if a child shows multiple signs of Separation Anxiety Disorder. Professional treatment can help the child overcome extreme separation distress.

How Can Parents Help When Separation Anxiety Peaks?

No parent wants to leave their distraught toddler or preschooler behind. But separation anxiety is normal and expected at certain ages. There are ways parents can gently encourage independence and alleviate common separation fears:

Offer Comfort Items

Let your child hold onto a special stuffed animal, blanket or mom’s scarf. Familiar objects provide security.

Separate More Often

Gradually get your child used to separations with brief practice runs – go take out trash, run a quick errand.

Stick to a Routine

Separation anxiety peaks when familiar routines fall apart. Maintain regular schedules for naps, meals, and playtimes.

Praise Your Child

Offer lots of encouragement for brave behavior without parents. “You did such a great job playing with Miss Betsy!”

Don’t Sneak Out

Slipping away makes separations more traumatic. Say a proper goodbye every time before leaving.

Ask Caregivers for Updates

Call sitters and teachers later to find out how your child did. This reassures you and your child.

Seek Professional Help

If anxiety disrupts normal activities for over 6 months, talk to your pediatrician about interventions that can help.

With patience and consistent support, toddlers and preschoolers learn to handle brief separations from parents or primary caregivers in healthy ways. Separation anxiety is temporary and part of growing up!


Separation anxiety is an expected phase of early childhood development. It manifests as distress when a child is apart from primary caregivers. While every child’s timing is slightly different, research shows separation anxiety often emerges around 6-10 months and peaks between 10-18 months of age. This coincides with major milestones like mobility, language, and stranger anxiety that make infants more aware of caregiver activities. Most toddlers improve gradually between 18-24 months as separation becomes more familiar. While traumatic separations or certain temperaments can prolong anxiety, it generally fades by preschool age. Understanding the usual trajectory of separation anxiety can help parents support their child through distressing but temporary fears. With empathy, consistency and time, children learn to handle separation in healthy ways and become more independent.