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Your kids are back to school, which might bring a sigh of relief. They’re easing back into a routine of class and after-school activities during the week.

However, for some kids, it isn’t always so easy. Getting ready on Monday morning for the week ahead can bring some serious anxiety for some students.

“Occasional anxiety before a new school year or a big exam is natural,” said Geisinger pediatrician Kathleen Noss, D.O. “But if your child is consistently upset that he has to leave home in the morning, he might have separation anxiety.”

A child suffering from separation anxiety might cry during your morning school drop-off routine, or even develop a “mystery illness” that keeps them from attending school at all. At best, it might cause your young student to be late for school in the morning. At worst, a child might miss days of school because he or she refuses to go.  

Separation anxiety may not only disrupt your morning routine, it can also affect other parts of your child’s education. Kids who suffer from separation anxiety might avoid taking part in social activates with peers during the day. They may also exhibit signs of low self-esteem.

“Your child might also refuse to sign up for after-school activities or sports—things that most kids look forward to each day,” said Dr. Noss. Rather than spend more time with friends, they’re eager to get home.

Children who suffer from separation anxiety may spend the bulk of their day worrying about being away from home or their parents; they might have a difficult time focusing on schoolwork and actively participating.

“Your child’s teacher might notice she’s not following directions during class or is taking longer than normal to complete assignments during the day,” said Dr. Noss. A teacher might share this information with the school counselor, or might reach out directly to you as a parent.

At home, he might also experience nightmares about being separated, or even begin wetting the bed.

“It’s important to watch for cues like this and help your child get help if he’s experiencing this type of anxiety so it doesn’t bleed into other parts of life like school performance or making friends,” said Dr. Noss.

Separation anxiety disorder can be caused by a recent traumatic event, such as a loved one’s death or illness, a divorce or a move. Parents who are anxious or overbearing can also cause anxiety in their kids. And it may be coupled with other anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety. If it lasts more than a few weeks, it’s important to see a doctor.  

A doctor can help diagnose separation anxiety disorder by conducting a physical exam to check for other illness or issues. He or she may then refer your child to a psychologist or counselor for cognitive behavior therapy.

“Talk therapy can help you child develop coping mechanisms so leaving mom and dad or home in the morning doesn’t bring about so much distress,” said Dr. Noss.

The goal is to reduce anxiety, educate the child about natural separation, and make the morning routine a little bit easier for everyone.
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