8 Ways to Cope with School Separation Anxiety

8 Ways to Cope with School Separation Anxiety

Going back to school can be tough on kids. I remember my first day of kindergarten and what it was like to walk into the classroom for the first time. I was full of excitement, ready for the adventure, then as I was heading through the door, I heard the cries. Another student was hysterical that he didn’t want to go. It made me wonder for a moment: Where exactly have my parents left me?! But then I saw the toys and blocks and felt fine again.

School anxiety is a normal and common situation, so parents shouldn’t be worried if a child is anxious about school or says she doesn’t want to go to school,” says Mandy Allison, MD, an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spokesperson and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado. “If school anxiety is severe or persistent past the first few weeks of school, parents should talk to a pediatrician.”

If your child is dealing with school anxiety, these 8 tips from Jerry Bubrick, PhD, senior director of the Anxiety & Mood Disorders Center of the Child Mind Institute in New York City, will help her relax:

1. Validate the child's experience.
You want your child to feel comfortable opening up and being honest with you, so never tell a child "it’s all in your head" or "you're being ridiculous.” Instead, say something like; "I can imagine that was hard for you" or "I can understand why you're scared in that situation." (You also don’t want to say that a child doesn’t have to go to school, adds Dr. Allison. “Going to school should not be negotiable,” she says, unless, of course a child might actually be sick, and in those cases, check in with your child’s doctor. )

2. Ask your child to write down her feelings.
This can help her own them without falling victim to them and will allow her to take time to express her feelings in a way that feels safe and comfortable.

3. Come up with a list of things to do when anxious.
Ideas can include deep breathing, getting a drink, splashing water on her face, drawing a happy or calming picture, writing down her thoughts, playing a game, calling a friend, etc. Your child can decorate the paper to give it an upbeat look.

4. Ask your child what advice they would give to another child who's feeling the same way.
Even with adults, it’s often easier to give rather than to practice advice, but sometimes when we hear our own words of wisdom, they may inspire our own change.

5. Engage your child in relaxation strategies.
These include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, etc.  These are activities you can do together, too. You can also try signing your child up for yoga classes where there will be other kids, making it a social event, too.

6. Teach healthy responses to stressful situations.
If you freak out in traffic or always look at your watch, then you’re teaching your child how to freak out for being late. In time-pressed situations around children, say something like this instead: "I'd prefer to be on time, but if we're late, it's not the end of the world, and we'll be okay."

7. Encourage your child to face her fears.
Any avoidance, including school phobia, will only get worse over time if ignored. It's healthy to confront a fear, feel anxiety and know it will pass.  That's what builds character and confidence.

8. Reward your child for her efforts.
Focus less on the outcome and more on the effort that goes into the fight. As long as kids are working on their strategies and practicing their skills, they should be rewarded with praise and affection.