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Is your child suffering from separation anxiety at school?

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Schoolchildren have not long begun a new year in the classroom. For very young students, this means extensive periods away from their family for five days a week, and often for the first time. Most of these children cope just fine, but a few don’t. Here, psychologist Debbie Admoni explains how you can help.

Everyone at some point has experienced feelings of anxiety when dealing with the world around them. However, one in three Australians experience anxiety which impairs their functioning, which is concerning.

Children can experience various anxieties related to school including failing to keep up with academic work, social difficulties and trying to meet the expectations of themselves and their family. It is important for you to support your child and learn helpful ways of thinking, solving problems and expressing feelings.

Child separation anxiety is a concern for many parents. Research shows that between four and five per cent of all children and adolescents have Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD), while up to 80 per cent of these children who refuse to go to school experience SAD. Separation anxiety is likely to be evident in a number of areas in a child’s life, and common indicators include the following.

  • Difficulty sleeping in their own bed
  • Fear of being alone in a room
  • Being fearful of being separated from family for short periods of time

Anxiety levels can vary greatly – anywhere from uneasiness to extreme anxiety about separating – which could significantly interfere with daily activities and functioning.

Research has shown that the most effective treatment for separation anxiety, including refusal to go to school, is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which supports the child to change their way of thinking and/or behaviour. However, it is also important for parents to communicate in a way their child feels understood.

The key is to always listen! Show that you are listening by acknowledging what your child says. For example, if your child says he/she doesn’t want to go to school, you could say: “It seems like you are not happy at school at the moment”.  In this way you are acknowledging the feelings behind the words instead of saying, “all children have to go to school”, so you are showing your child you understand him/her.

This acknowledgement is likely to encourage your child to talk more about their issue/s. It is also important to work closely with the teachers and other support staff at the school to identify your child’s anxieties in order to get further support for your child. With everyone working together, you are more likely to get a positive result more quickly and, ultimately, a much happier child.

For more information on how to deal with separation anxiety, you can contact Debbie on 0423 74 8886 or visit Psychology for Life.

Have any of your children experienced separation anxiety at school? If so, what steps have you taken to treat it? Let us know in the comments section below.

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