Childhood Anxiety: Do 3 Year Olds Have Separation Anxiety?


Do 3 year olds have separation anxiety? It’s a question many parents ask when their little one experiences difficulty leaving them for the first time.

Separation anxiety is common among young children, and it can be especially intense in 3-year-olds. Knowing how to handle this difficult situation is essential for helping your child cope with the transition from toddlerhood into childhood.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what separation anxiety looks like in three-year-olds, as well as strategies that you can use to help them manage these emotions. We will also look at when it might be appropriate to seek professional help if your child’s feelings of distress are more than normal levels of worry or sadness.

If you’re wondering how do 3 year olds have separation anxiety, we’ll help you get the answers.

Table of Contents

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety disorders are a typical part of growing up but they can become an issue if they intensify or persist for too long.

Separation anxiety occurs when a child experiences fear and distress at the thought of being away from their parents or primary caregivers. It is most common in toddlers and preschoolers, although older children may also experience separation anxiety.

A child’s separation anxiety typically begins around 6 months old and peaks between 18 to 24 months old before gradually decreasing as the child develops better coping skills.

Signs and symptoms of normal separation anxiety may include:

  • Clinginess.
  • Nonstop crying.
  • Tantrums.
  • Difficulty sleeping alone.
  • Reluctance to go to school or daycare.
  • Nightmares related to separation themes (e.g., monsters taking them away).
  • Physical complaints such as stomachaches when anticipating separation events (e.g., going to school).
  • Excessive worry about harm coming to their loved ones while they are apart.
  • Irrational fears associated with leaving home (e.g., fear that something bad will happen if they leave).

A child’s separation anxiety, especially in 3-year-olds, is a common developmental phenomenon. However, it’s important to know how to treat separation anxiety disorders when they are already interfering in a child’s life.

do 3 year olds have separation anxiety


Do 3 Year Olds Have Separation Anxiety?

Up to 40% of 3-year-olds can suffer from separation anxiety, which makes it a common developmental problem. A child’s separation anxiety may be a natural part of growth or an indication of something more serious. In either case, understanding the extent and dangers linked with separation anxiety can help guardians support an anxious child.

Separation fear is one of the most common emotional issues experienced by children aged 2-3 years. This type of fear usually peaks at around 18 months and gradually decreases as the child grows older.

Various components may contribute to a 3-year-old’s likelihood of experiencing separation anxiety. These include:

  • Being too reliant on caregivers.
  • Having trouble managing emotions.
  • Exposure to distressing scenarios (e.g., parental divorce or death).
  • Possessing an anxious temperament from birth.
  • Disruption in routine caregiving patterns (such as frequent changes in childcare providers).

Sometimes you can’t avoid separation anxiety, but with the right strategies, you can help your child manage the excessive worry associated with separation fear.

Key Takeaway: At 3 years old, up to 40% of children may experience separation anxiety. This child development phenomenon can be attributed to a host of factors, including overreliance on caretakers, trauma, or a disruption in routine.

How to Deal With Separation Anxiety During a Child’s Development

Separation anxiety, though an expected part of the growth in the 3-6 age range, can be a source of distress for both parent and child. It can be trying for parents to watch their child endure the anguish of separation, but there are techniques that can help treat separation anxiety disorders.

One way to help your child cope with separation anxiety is by establishing consistent routines before leaving home. This helps provide structure and predictability which can make it easier for your child to adjust when you’re away.

Set aside a dedicated time each day to give your child undivided attention, allowing them to feel reassured that they have quality time with you.

Encourage your toddler to practice deep breathing as a calming technique when they start to feel anxious about being apart from you. This could help reduce stress during times of separation.

You could also give them something comforting like a stuffed animal or blanket that smells like home to remind them of the security provided by their family environment even when apart.

Practice short separations so that your little one becomes more comfortable being apart from you.

You cannot avoid separation anxiety, but by implementing strategies to reduce stress, parents can help their 3-year-old cope with this common fear.

Key Takeaway: Parents of 3-6 year-olds can help their child cope with separation anxiety by providing consistent routines, setting aside one-on-one time, and practicing short separations.

When to Call Your Doctor

While separation anxiety is part of a child’s development, parents should be able to identify when expert intervention is necessary. If the fear becomes severe or persistent, then you should seek professional help.

If your child dreads being away from you at the age of 6 or older, then it could be a sign of a more serious issue.

Call your doctor if you see the following symptoms in older children:

  • Frequent emotional outbursts.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Shouting frantically.
  • Getting actually sick when isolated.
  • Refusal to go to school, daycare, or playdates.
  • Excessive clinginess even when you are physically present.
  • Avoids activities that they used to like due to their fear of you leaving.

A mental health specialist who has extensive experience in treating a child’s separation anxiety can provide you with coping strategies that can help your child feel safer when you are away.

Here are some techniques that your therapist may recommend.

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps children understand how their thoughts influence their feelings and behavior.
  2. Play therapy utilizing toys and games as a medium of expression.
  3. Family counseling enhances communication within the household.
  4. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises can help a child deal with panic symptoms.

Working with an experienced mental health provider can help reduce stress levels in both parent and child while developing strategies on how to best handle separation anxiety. It also enables parents to understand the underlying causes of the issue so they can better manage future outbursts.

Furthermore, having access to resources outside the home gives families additional support during these challenging times.

Key Takeaway: If your 3-year-old displays intense fear or distress when separated from you, seek professional help to get proper support in managing the situation.


Do 3 year olds have separation anxiety? This is, in fact, the peak age for childhood anxiety.

It’s important for parents to recognize the signs of separation anxiety and take steps to help their child cope. If the signs remain or become more intense, it may be necessary to look for qualified assistance from a mental health expert. With the right support, children can learn how to manage their feelings of fear and distress when separated from loved ones.

Are you a parent of a 3-6-year-old who is experiencing separation anxiety? You are not alone! Separation anxiety can be an incredibly difficult issue to navigate, but there are resources available to help.

Don’t hesitate to reach out and start finding solutions that will work for your family. Together we can create healthier relationships between children and parents, build confidence in kids, and make sure everyone feels supported throughout the process.


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