Separation anxiety is defined as worry and fear about being apart from family members or individuals to whom a child is most attached. Many small children will experience separation anxiety when the school year starts. The anxiety can be more severe in some cases. If your student has excessive anxiety for more than four weeks the child may have Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD).
Only a professional can diagnose a child with Separation Anxiety Disorder.
Some ways that students may show separation anxiety is:
- Intense emotional distress about going to school
- the student tries to persuade parents to let them to stay home
- the student stays home during school because it is safe and they’re comfortable
- The child is willing to do schoolwork but can only finish assignments when they’re at home
Students going back to school are facing a particularly tough situation. Many young children have been home with their parents for an extended amount of time. Most likely these students have not been able to interact in a group setting with their peers in a year and a half! There is also an extra layer of anxiety put on young students to adhere to the COVID-19 rules the school has in place (ex. Wearing masks, social distancing, and extra hand washing). There’s anxiety in the air, and students will be able to feel that. Many parents have been seeing excessive clinginess in kids up to 10 years old.
How to Help
- Validate their feelings! Stay calm and stay positive. Let them know that it’s okay to miss their parents and it’s normal. But don’t feed it too much, you want to let them feel like they can do something about it. Maybe the first day of school you can let your students write a card or draw something for their parents.
- Set the tone. Stay calm and try not to let your own anxieties get too your students. Try to avoid leading questions like, “Are you nervous about coming back to school?”. This can make them feel like there must be something to worry about.
- Collaborate with the parents. Talk strategy with the parents. They will be able to help more than anyone.
- Create a safe space. Create a comfy and calming space in the classroom that students who are struggling can go to calm themselves down.
- Teach your classroom self-soothing techniques. This can include counting, deep breathing, stretching, and fidget toys.
- Encourage group projects. Let them play games and do assignments together. Once they start having fun with their friends they may feel less anxious and more safe.
This is an issue that many teachers will face in the upcoming school year. Hopefully these quick tips will assist you with any students facing separation anxiety in your classroom.
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Engaging Parents to Increase Student Achievement
Developing Students’ Mindfulness Practice to Support Engagement, Self-Regulation, and Achievement