School and separation anxiety
There are plenty of kids that don't enjoy school, but for some primary school children the issue can be due to stress and anxiety over being separated from their parents. There's always at least one child in every class who suffers from separation anxiety - and it's distressing for all concerned. How many parents have finally managed to extricate themselves from their howling child, only to fall in a heap themselves when they reach the car?
Primary school children who regularly get distressed when being left at school are often classified as having separation anxiety disorder. This can sound serious, but in nearly all cases, the child will improve over time - with the occasional relapse.
It's natural for your young child to feel anxious when you say goodbye. Although it can be difficult, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development. With understanding, patience, and coping strategies, it can be relieved - and should fade as your child gets older.
There's lots of advice out there on how to deal with it - but understanding your child and working on some commonsense strategies to deal with it is sometimes the best approach.
Try these tips to break the crying at drop-off cycle:
- Explain beforehand your drop-off procedure so she is completely aware of what will happen. And then tell her when you'll be back, and from where you'll be picking her up.
- Involve your child's class teacher in the process as she will be left with your crying child.
- Don't hang around at school or prolong the goodbyes. You may need to run through the pick-up process again.
- Never sneak out - make sure she knows you've left.
- Try to appear relaxed with a happy or calm expression.
- Set up a sticker chart in which your child works towards something special, putting a sticker on each day she separates from you without too much trouble.
It's worth noting that for some kids, the crying and howling at drop-off can last for weeks and may reappear after school holidays for a few days.
Separation anxiety disorder is not a normal stage of development, but a problem characterized by extreme distress when a child is away from the primary caregiver. Unlike the occasional worries that children may feel at times of separation, separation anxiety disorder causes fears that limit a child's ability to engage in school life.
Separation anxiety disorder can get in the way of kids' normal activities. Children with this disorder may:
- Refuse to go to school. A child with separation anxiety disorder may have an unreasonable fear of school, and will do almost anything to stay home.
- Display reluctance to go to sleep. Anxiety may make these children insomniacs, either because of the fear of being alone or due to nightmares about separation.
- Complain of physical sickness like a headache or stomachache. At the time of separation, or before, children with this disorder often complain they feel ill.
- Cling to the caregiver. Children with separation problems may shadow you around the house or cling to your arm or leg if you attempt to step out.
While in most cases worries about separation simply pass as children adapt to school life, if you think your child needs some help dealing with her anxiety, see a health professional such as a GP who can refer you to a child psychologist or even an anxiety clinic.
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This story was written by Fiona Baker for Kidspot, Australia’s leading Back To School resource, from sources including Early Life Foundations , Australian Government Department of Education , The Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations of NSW , NSW Public Schools , Vic Department of Education and early Childhood Development , WA Department of Education , Tas Department of Education , Qld Department of Education, Training and the Arts , SA Department of Education and Children’s Services and ACT Education and Training and NT Department of Education and Training .