Back to School Jitters or Child Separation Anxiety?
August 1st means Back to School for many counties in the Atlanta area. If you live in Roswell or Alpharetta, you get a few more days to soak up the summer. But if you’ve been in town, you’ve noticed school buses out, checking the routes; store shelves crammed full of Back to School supplies; and kids feverishly trying to finish their summer reading. Some parents might be gleefully filling the basket with pencils and folders—“isn’t this the MOST Wonderful time of the year, after all?” Some kids may even be looking forward to a return to routines and friends. However, other children may seem more jittery when the topic of school arises, and this can be a symptom of child separation anxiety.
It’s common for going back to school to be a stressful time for many children and adults. For children that have never gone to school before or have difficulty separating from their parents, the new school year can seem overwhelming. But when is a child struggling with something more than just back to school jitters? Child separation anxiety is the most common type of anxiety disorder in children 12 years old and under. Even teens can experience separation anxiety. So what is the difference?
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Children
Kids who have excessive fear or anxiety about leaving home or caregivers may have separation anxiety, especially if the anxiety is more than what is expected for their developmental age level. The key word is “excessive”. So what does that mean?
Signs of excessive anxiety and fear in a child include:
- Repeated and excessive distress when separated from home or a caregiver
- Fear about the parent/caregiver getting hurt or dying
- Worry that an unexpected and unrealistic situation will cause separation (accidents, illness, kidnapping, etc.)
- Persistently refusing to leave the house for school or other activities
- Fear of being alone; avoiding play alone
- Inability to sleep away from home or to go to sleep without being near caregiver
- Nightmares related to separation, difficult bedtimes and frequent wake ups
- Complaints of headaches or stomachaches before an expected separation
If these signs and symptoms sound familiar, here are a few things that parents can try at home to help reduce anxiety:
1. Establish set routines in the morning before school and in the evening before bedtime.
Predictable routines can ensure a smoother transition from home to school as well as for bedtime. Lay out clothes the night before, pack up backpacks and make lunches together the night before to avoid the morning rush.
2. Be on time and avoid the rush.
Arrive early to school and spend some time letting the child get more comfortable in the new setting at first. After a few days, use the carpool or bus service to avoid going into the school which may prolong the anxiety.
3. Brainstorm and write down positive thoughts about school.
It’s easy for the brain to focus on the negatives. Help your child think of what is going well and focus their mind on the positives. This may be difficult for your child at first, so work together to come up with positive thoughts.
4. Get good sleep and exercise each day.
If you are like most families, your sleep/wake schedules can be unpredictable in the summer. At least 1 week before school starts, try to get back to a normal sleep/wake schedule, gradually getting up earlier and going to bed earlier each day. Be consistent and set good bedtime routines for your child. Make sure your child gets at least 60 minutes of exercise each day (the kind that gets them out of breath!). All of these tips will help the sleep quality for you, as well as your child. However, with children night terrors are more common than with adults. Nightmares and night terrors are different sleep disturbances, and if your child experiences night terrors treatment may be necessary to help them. feel free to read this article discussing the differences between nightmares and night terrors published by the National Sleep Foundation.
5. Warn children about any upcoming changes in schedule.
Is someone else taking them to school or picking them up? Give your child ten and five minute warnings before leaving the house and other places to alert them to upcoming changes.
6. Be empathetic but confident that your child can get through this.
Providing empathy allows the child to feel understood and encouraged. You might just say “I can see this is hard for you but I know you can get through this–how can I help?” Consider child counseling or play therapy with a child therapist or parent coaching to help you connect better with your kid and their individual needs as well as your own.
Child Counseling or Parent Coaching Can Help
Tried these tips and still having a hard time? Counseling is effective in helping children overcome their separation anxiety if the child needs extra support.A child therapist at our Roswell counseling practice can partner with you and your child to help. For little ones, play therapy can be an effective treatment providing many benefits for children, while older children might respond well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to learn new skills for reducing anxiety and fear over separating from parents. Parents may be able to use some support as well, which we can help with in individual counseling for parents and parent coaching. Give us a call today to get started.
STARTING CHILD COUNSELING & PLAY THERAPY IN ROSWELL, GA & ATLANTA, GA AREA IS EASY:
- Get in touch with Wellview Counseling to set up your first appointment.
- Get connected with a skilled child therapist you can trust.
- Start seeing your child begin to overcome their fear, grow, build independence and thrive.
About the Author
Emily is one of the caring therapists at Wellview Counseling. If your child is struggling with the back to school transition, Emily would love to help!
Other Services Offered at Wellview Counseling
In addition to child counseling and play therapy for child separation anxiety, our caring therapists provide individual counseling, parent coaching, teen counseling, child counseling & play therapy, online therapy sessions, anxiety treatment and depression counseling at our Roswell, GA based counseling practice. Our mission is to give families who live in the Atlanta, GA area tools to improve their mental health. We also offer information and tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to Contact us if you have questions or if you would like to schedule an appointmenttoday!