Back to school separation anxiety

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Ready or not, it's back to school time across Southwest Louisiana! While many parents have no problem getting their kids in the back to school groove, for some - this week and the next few to follow can be a trying time.

1st grader Lucas VanGossen has mixed emotions about heading back to school.  "I'm a little excited, a little not," he says.  Lucas had what turned out to be a great year of kindergarten last year, but its rocky start is something that mom Barbara still remembers.  "When we would get there, there were times when he wouldn't get out of the car," says Barbara, "times when we would walk him in and have to sit for a while."

Licensed therapist Chauntelle LeJeune with Solutions EAP in Lake Charles says that many young kids who enter a new environment will experience separation anxiety.  "You'll see crying, you might see phone calls home from school on a regular basis where the child's complaining of a stomach ache, headache, they threw up, but then you get them home and everything's good," says LeJeune.

Four percent of children between the ages of six and 12 have significant struggles with separation anxiety.  "If it continues for weeks and weeks and it's starting to escalate," says LeJeune, "then you know you have a real issue on your hands."

The number one way to reduce the stress and anxiety is to establish a routine.  LeJeune says, "Routine is comforting to children, so if there's more of a routine happening, then there's less chance of anxiety problems."

Talking to your child in a casual way about what they're feeling can open up a dialogue where assurance can be offered.  Barbara says, "I would try to explain to him that we would never leave him anywhere unless we knew he was perfectly safe."

For Lucas, his anxiety was alleviated within the first couple of weeks of the school year thanks to consistency and comfort from his parents - and a nugget of wisdom from his kindergarten teacher.  "His teacher told me, 'once you're gone, he's fine, this just isn't his first choice - his first choice would be to be with mom and dad,'" says Barbara.

While it's difficult for parents to let go of their upset child, as the time lapses - the tears of the morning will become something of the past.

At the beginning of the school year, parents of young or anxious students should walk into the school building with them, meet the teacher and encourage their child about the positive aspects of the day. If crying and clinging persists for more than a few weeks, you should contact a professional for coping advice.

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