Parenting Tips

On Separation Anxiety

© Victoria Todd

As school begins, there will be children who struggle to separate from their parents and return to school.  They may come up with an assortment of reasons:  don’t feel well, can’t bear to face mean teachers and rejecting peers, etc.  But very often the issue is ambivalence about growing up.  Remember when your child first went to school?  Part of him/her wanted to stay home with you and another, more mature part wanted to grow up and go to school.  You may well have felt the same way.  Part of you felt proud that you had prepared your child for this big developmental step by practicing with brief separations.  But another part of you felt sad to turn him over to the care of others and see him move away from you.    

It is often helpful to children to talk about their “two-way feelings.”  “Seems like part of you wants to stay a little girl and part of you wants to grow up, Kylie.”  Then listen to her feelings before mentioning that “little girls stay home, but big girls go off to school and learn all kinds of interesting things.”  You might even mention all the fun things big girls do at school.

Complicating this dilemma is younger siblings, who may be home and have mommy all to themselves while the school-age child shares his teacher with a classroom filled with peers/siblings.  Jealous, school-age children have all kinds of fantasies about what their moms and younger siblings do while they’re at school.  I recall one boy who thought his mom and little brother went to the zoo and ate birthday cake with ice cream while he slaved away on his schoolwork.  So, you might want to give your child a realistic picture of how your day will go.  And be sure and mention how you will be thinking of him and be eager to hear about his day, when he gets home.

Lastly, there are some children who are angry at their parent(s) for an assortment of reasons.  These children may have a very difficult time separating from them, as they may need to see that their anger has not harmed their parent(s) or driven them away.  Often these children are in need of professional assistance to help them with their separation anxiety.