Your Child’s Separation Anxiety and School
As the school year starts, children may have some anxiety about going to school. This
could happen even if they are not going to school for the first time. The idea of
new experiences away from their parents or other loved ones can be quite scary for
children. Complaining of an upset stomach, headache, or something else is often how
children show 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 happen before other separations
like sleepovers at friend’s houses or a parent’s business trip. Children may be afraid
that something bad will happen during the separation. And clingy behavior, pleading,
and tantrums are common just before the separation. They 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 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 find that there is a real problem causing the anxiety.
There may be a bully, a tough teacher, or a test or assignment. If there is a problem,
work with your child toward a solution.
Don’t give in to arguments or tantrums. That teaches children that those things will
work. Tell the teacher about your child’s worries. Most teachers are experts at handling
separation anxiety. Most important, reward your children with praise every time they
go to school and stay at school without much difficulty.
Most of the time, school separation anxiety ends quickly. Children who are anxious
may have other problems, both currently and later in life. Sometimes separation anxiety
is a reaction to a recent event such as:
Children whose families have histories of panic disorder, phobias, depression, or
alcoholism may be more likely to have separation anxiety. Contact your child’s healthcare
provider if the behavior lasts for more than a few days or if the symptoms seem severe.