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Back-to-School Separation Anxiety

Updated: Jan 31

Is your student afraid of leaving home and going to school?

They might have separation anxiety.

Let’s learn how to help them.

Separation anxiety occurs when students “become anxious when their parent or primary caregiver leaves their sight.”

Signs a child ma have separation anxiety include:

  • Tears at drop-off

  • Becoming more clingy when you leave them

  • Crying or clinging in new situations (primarily from 6 months to 3 years)

  • Refusing to go to sleep without you or another caregiver nearby

  • Beginning to cry at night after being able to sleep through the night

Dr. Bentley from Stanford Medicine Children’s Health states that “Our brains associate ‘novel’ with ‘dangerous’.”

Moreover, young babies don't understand time, so they think a parent who walks out of the room is gone forever. They have not yet developed the idea that a hidden object is still there (object permanence). As such, babies can become anxious and fearful when a parent leaves their sight. Separation anxiety is usually at its peak between 10 and 18 months. It typically ends by the time a child is 3 years old.

Children “are still learning that these separations are only temporary.”

However, staying with your child may make things worse.

“The more you linger, the more it tells the child it’s not safe to separate.”

Dr. Bentley from Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

Moreover, Dr. Bentley also states, “If the parent accommodates the child’s anxiety by allowing them to avoid school, this communicates that the parent is not confident in the child’s ability to handle the situation.”

The good news though, is that there are many other ways caretakers can help students overcome separation anxiety.

Parents/Guardians can:

  • Comfort their child when they are afraid

  • Practice being apart

  • Always keep their promises of when they will return

  • Make separating quick and positive, like playing a fun goodbye game

Teachers and educators can:

  • Comfort and soothe the student (but should not do it at the expense of other students!)

  • Distract students with engaging activities

  • Make school a fun and exciting place for students to be in

  • Help students build bonds with the same people; this familiarity will help them feel safe

If you are interested in learning more about anxiety, feel free to schedule a free consultation here.

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