Now, that the new school year is here. I have been receiving calls from parents concerned about their children’s reactions and resistance to returning to school. Many parents are concerned that their child may be suffering from separation anxiety.

It is not unusual that your child may have difficulty adjusting to returning to school after 2 months of being home with mom and the family. It is a time for adjustment and change. Some children who are more sensitive to change, have more difficulty adapting. However, it is important to know that there are things you can do to ease the transition and lessen their anxiety.

First, you need to evaluate if this is just a tactic to get attention or is it a real anxiety concerning separation. Here are some questions you need to ask or notice in your child’s behaviour that will help you figure this out.

- Encourage your child to talk about what is bothering him or her.

- What is the pattern of the behaviour?

- Is your child crying, clinging, or having temper tantrums, complaining about having stomachaches or headaches when anticipating or actually experiencing separation from family?

- Is the child having difficulty falling asleep? Could he or she be having nightmares with themes of separation or death of loved ones?

- Does he or she have difficulty staying in a room alone, or staying with the babysitter?

If your answer is yes to all these questions, most likely your child is exhibiting separation anxiety.

The good news is that separation anxiety is not uncommon and is fixable. Many of my clients were surprised to hear that I have many years of experience helping children with anxiety. They think of me mostly as a couple and adult therapist. However, due to my 16 years of experience working in the child/family department of the CLSC, I have developed a wide range of expertise including helping family with parenting issues and helping children of all ages, deal with anxiety, including separation anxiety.

Steps you can take to lessen your child’s anxiety

1. Explain to your child that it is normal to sometimes feel anxious or afraid when alone or away from mom or dad for a day. Remind your child, gently, that he or she managed the last separation.

2. Anticipate separation difficulty. Prepare your child in advance for any change in his/her schedule. Reassure him or her or take them to the new school and show them the room they will be occupying, even the desk they will be sitting in.

3. Be consistent. If your family’s schedule is going to change, discuss it ahead of time with your child.

4. Keep calm. Your children will take cues from you. If you are upset or worried, that tells them that there must be something to be worried about.

5. Explain that this will pass and over several days, they will be feeling much better.

6. Encourage them to make friends and to eat lunch with children they know.

7. Help them to express what their fears are:
- Are they afraid something will happen to their parents when they are absent?

8. If they are too young to express their feelings, have them draw you a picture of their fears. Then you can reassure them.

9. Give them something that will comfort them. Send them a note in their lunch box, a happy face, a picture of the family, a sticker, a small toy.

10. Offer them a reward for being brave for the day, e.g. some alone time with their mom, playing a video game, watching their favourite show with you, a special treat for dessert etc.

11. Teach them relaxation exercises, like breathing exercises

12. If they are having anxious thoughts, ask them if it is realistic or not. Have them remember that they were away from you last year and yet you were home every day and they stayed safe.

13. The next day remind them that you have confidence that they will be fine and that you want them to focus on how they will celebrate this next day of success.

Learning to overcome anxiety is like exercise – you need to practice the skills regularly. Make them a habit

If your efforts to reduce these symptoms don’t work and the symptoms seem to be getting worse, it may be time to seek professional help. Your child may have developed a Separation Anxiety Disorder. In this case cognitive/behavioural therapy given by a professional would be the best help for your child.

Author's Bio: 

Montreal licensed psychotherapist, Rhonda Rabow M.A., has been involved in couple, individual and family counselling in the Montreal area for over twenty years. One of her specialties is offering short-term counselling with long-term results. She offers counselling in a warm and welcoming environment.