Your Child’s Separation Anxiety and School

As the school year approaches, your child may have some anxiety about going to school, whether or not it is the first time. The idea of new experiences away from their parents or other loved ones can be quite frightening for children.  Complaining of an upset stomach, headache, or something else is often how a child shows is or her anxiety and fear. Separation anxiety is a normal part of development for all children.

The anxiety may not only be related to school. It can occur before other separations like a sleepover at a friend's house, or a parent's business trip. Your child may be afraid that something bad will happen during the separation. And, clingy behavior, pleading, and tantrums are common just before the separation. Your child may also have nightmares, refuse to sleep alone, or need frequent reassurance that everything is OK.

Supportive, yet firm

The best way to deal with your child's fears is to be supportive, yet firm. For example, you might say "I think you're feeling nervous, but you do have to go to school. Tell me what you're worried about." You may discover that there is a real problem causing the anxiety. There may be a bully, a difficult teacher, or a test or assignment. If there is a problem, work with your child towards a solution.

Don't give in to arguments or tantrums. That teaches your child that those things will work. Be sure to tell the teacher about your child's worries. Most teachers are experts at handling separation anxiety. Most important, reward your child with praise every time he or she goes to school and stays at school without much difficulty.

Most of the time, school separation anxiety end quickly. Children who are anxious may have other problems, both currently and in later life. Sometimes separation anxiety is a reaction to a recent event such as the illness or death of a family member or friend, divorce or remarriage, or moving somewhere new. Children whose families have histories of panic disorder, phobias, depression or alcoholism may be more likely to have separation anxiety. Contact your child's health care provider if the behavior lasts for more than a few days or if the symptoms seem severe.