As summer break begins to wear out its welcome, back-to-school anxiety creeps into children’s minds and many parents wonder how to help a child with separation anxiety at school.
Children and adolescents will begin to show worry and may start asking questions. Who will be my teacher? Where should I sit at lunch? Will I have any friends in my class?
But some young people develop excessive anxiety that disrupts their lives. They may have temper tantrums or outbursts, withdraw from the family, or complain of headaches or stomach pains. These could be signs of a serious problem.
Preventing Back-to-School Anxiety
You may notice changes in a child’s demeanor not just in the run-up to the school year, but even carrying through the first weeks. Here are some ways to prepare your children for the change.
Take care of the child’s physiological needs. Ensure they observe age-appropriate bedtimes, eat healthy and regular meals, and stay active. Everything starts with these needs. The first day of school is stressful for any young person; if they are hungry or cranky, this stress will only be exacerbated.
Practice Active Listening. The best way to prove to an anxious child that you are on their side is to listen to them. Following the best active listening practices will allow your child to talk through their anxiety, and you will better understand what is troubling them.
Keep Things in Perspective. Children do not have the perspective that adults do, so they consider the start of a new school year a matter of life or death. Acknowledge their worry and remind them that they will be capable of handling any challenges that will come their way. Find affirmations for anxiety that speak to their worries and repeat them before bedtime. (This is helpful for adults as well).
5 Practical Steps to Ease Separation Anxiety
- Tour the school ahead of time. Familiarize your child with the front entrance, the playground, and the classrooms, if possible. This preparation could also allow your child to meet the teacher and make introductions, which will go a long way to easing anxiety.
- Create a special parting routine. A unique hug or loving message between the two of you will make your child feel encouraged.
- Leave a special note in your child’s lunch that will remind them of you when they feel overwhelmed.
- Have a fun event planned for after the school day, and remind your child of this at drop-off. Even just a promise that your child can tell you everything that happened at the end of the day will give them something to focus on instead of their anxiety.
- Small children may benefit from role play. Act out a separation and reunion scenario with dolls or toys. Give them a chance to be the guardian and let them pretend to drop the adult at school. This exercise will help normalize the situation and make it seem less threatening.
Finally, it will be time for your child to say goodbye. It is important to stay confident and firm at this point. Transfer the child to the care of another adult, express your love and well wishes, and then turn around and leave.
Even if the child protests, it is important for you as the adult to understand that the teachers at the school are capable enough to handle your child’s needs and that your child is capable of handling whatever the day has in store.
Don’t be alarmed if your child has a breakdown at the end of the day when they next see you again. This is a natural time for them to release the pent-up emotions from the day. The best you can do is be warm and supportive.
At Advanced Behavioral Health, we understand that being young can be stressful and that sometimes everybody feels anxious about big changes like going back to school.
If your child suffers from back-to-school anxiety, try the tips above for how to help a child with separation anxiety at school. Don’t hesitate to call our team of qualified mental health specialists for more support.
You can call us at 301-345-1022 or send us a message online here. One of our team members will be standing by to help you find the confidential consultation you need.