Back to School Separation and Social Anxiety

We often see a spike in cases of children experiencing separation and social anxiety when school is back in session after a summer of being home. With the past year of the pandemic disrupting life as normal, many more children are having higher levels of anxiety than ever before. It is not uncommon for young children to experience separation anxiety but when it persists and interferes with a child’s healthy social functioning, it should not be taken lightly.

Social anxiety is often connected to separation anxiety but also can stand on its own as a debilitating experience for children. Back to school separation and social anxiety can result in a child refusing to go to school often accompanied by headaches, stomach aches and other physical complaints.

There are a few things you can do as a parent to support your child if they are experiencing separation or social anxiety. Depending on the age of your child and the level of severity of symptoms, often children can work through back to school separation and social anxiety with the support of their parents. As with everything, however, if you try these methods and don’t see relief and improvement please reach out for professional support from a licensed child and family therapist. 

Here are 4 Ideas for Back to School Separation and Social Anxiety

1. Share a special book.

One of our favorites is called The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is a lovely story about a young raccoon preparing to leave his mama to go to school. Mama raccoon shows him a special way he can continue to feel connected to her even when he is away at school.

Another of our favorites is a book called The Invisible String  in which siblings learn they are always connected to their loving parent.

2. Affirm your child’s feelings while co-regulating.

When your child is feeling anxious, sad, scared, or nervous, it’s important to notice with empathy her feelings and help her to regulate those big emotions by joining with her in soothing. Warm hugs, rocking in a rocking chair together, humming a tune together all are ways you and she can accept and ride out those big feelings while soothing together.

3. Team up with your child’s teacher.

Have a chat with your child’s teacher about your child’s anxiety and work together to make transition time from home to school as supportive and connecting as possible.

4. Role-play with your child in advance.

Puppets can be a great way to role-play in a way that takes some of the pressure off your child. Puppets allow children to project their thoughts and feelings with a safe distance. Pretend one puppet is scared to leave home and go to school and have another puppet be a wise helper or friend. Let your child direct the helper puppet and you can be the anxious puppet. This will empower your child to come up with some solutions and creative ways to combat the anxiety or at least talk through what they are feeling once removed through the use of puppets. Later, you and your child can practice some direct role-playing which will give your child a chance to explore and practice what he can say or do when he feels anxious at school.

Sometimes it can help parents to have a consultation with a mental health professional who works with children and families. If you would like to discuss your child’s anxiety, please call our offices and we will be happy to schedule a parenting consultation with you.

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