Thinking About Learning

Notes from Dearborn Academy

When Separation Anxiety Is Too Much
mari ::: Emotional Health

Most kids suffer from separation anxiety at some point. photo by: WISAM

BY HOWARD ROSSMAN, Ph.D., Director, Dearborn Academy

In a recent Huffington Post parenting column, a reader asked about her preschool son's separation anxiety. "My husband drops him off because when I do he cries and grabs on to me so intensely that I feel terrible for leaving him, " the reader wrote. "And, I feel miserable all day."

It is hard to know what to do. Separation anxiety is a problem that can arise at many different points during childhood, usually during a point of transition. Most often it occurs when a child begins preschool or kindergarten, at the beginning of a school year, or when there is a change of school, such as when a child enters middle school. It can also be triggered by a sudden difficulty with school work or change in the schedule at school or a stressor or change at home. Separation anxiety is very difficult for the child, the parent and the school, and it challenges everyone together to help the child overcome their anxiety, which to them is very real, and can be accompanied by stomach aches or other physical symptoms, and a refusal to break away from the parent, who is then caught in an emotional bind.

The article rightly indicates that it is important to help the child attend school, and help the child bond with one person is often very helpful as that person can then became the "safe" person to the child, who can help the child with the transition. For young people whose parents think they are vulnerable to developing separation problems, it can be helpful for the child to visit the program before it starts, meet the teachers and other staff, and become familiar with the school, and the classroom.

When the problem becomes more entrenched, however, it might be helpful to seek professional help.

At Dearborn Academy and the Dearborn STEP Program, we frequently see students who have stopped attending school due to the stressors they experiencing. This may include bullying, unidentified learning problems that impedes a child's progress, or other issues that make a student feel that going to school is not safe. It is important to gain as much information as possible to understand what is causing this, and then to work towards making a new placement feel safe to the child.