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The beginning of a new school year can be a stressful and emotional time for students and their parents. It takes a few days for everyone to get back into the routine and then the school year begins to hum along. However, between 5 and 12 percent of students experience such paralyzing fear that they refuse to go to school.
The Practical Family Living website explains that this “school phobia” is not related to a specific school or teacher, but to the fear of separation. The child worries about loss and panics when the surrounding environment changes from home to school. The child feels safe at home, but after leaving for school, the child begins to worry that something will happen to her home or family while she is away at school. The New York University Child Study Center points out that the development of separation anxiety in a child can sometimes follow a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or after a move or change of schools.
It is a heart-wrenching sight to watch a parent patiently drop off a crying and begging child, and then slowly walk back to the car with head lowered. What is a parent to do? NYU Child Study Center offers some positive, common sense strategies for a parent coping with a child who is experiencing separation anxiety:
• Don’t hesitate to contact the teacher, school, and school psychologist for assistance, even before the school year begins.
• Don’t shield your child from separation experiences and don’t give in to your child’s impassioned cries. This will only prolong the behavior by encouraging it.
• Calmly and consistently remind your student that you will be there after school (or at the end of the work day).
• Punishment makes it worse. Kind, consistent, gentle pressure, and encouragement is key.
• Don’t ask your child why he or she is scared.
In my experience as a teacher, a student can overcome this anxiety when there is a compassionate and coordinated effort by parents, teachers, and other school personnel. Some tears are expected at drop off, particularly with preschoolers or kindergarteners. However, if problems persist, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.