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Back To School Separation Anxiety During The Pandemic

As the 2020 – 2021 school year begins, many parents and children are experiencing a form of separation anxiety over sending kids back into the classroom during the pandemic. The beginning of the new school year can be threatening to a child during normal times, but the prospect of going into a situation where the coronavirus is likely to be present has raised anxiety levels in many families.

For parents who live in school districts that offer a choice between virtual or in-person learning, it can be overwhelming to make a decision over which is best for their child. Being safe at home means that kids who have special needs or who learn better in person will lose out on many learning opportunities, while children who are fearful of being in a classroom will struggle if they have to go back into the school.

All this stress can bring up separation anxiety and school refusal in kids, not to mention heightened school anxiety in parents.

Separation Anxiety And In-Person Schooling During Covid-19

Sometimes separation anxiety and school refusal come up for children after they have gone through an illness or an emotional trauma, such as moving from one neighborhood to another. In the case of the pandemic, however, illness and death is all we hear about on the news, so a child who may already be inclined to separation anxiety will only worry more.

Parents hardly fare better – in many cases they are having to choose whether to stay home with kids who will be learning virtually (thus, risking their jobs) or sending their child into a possibly contagious environment. Either way, the decision is distressing.

Anxiety Definition

An anxious child may develop a separation anxiety disorder if they show excessive concern about a separation from a parent or caregiver or from their home. Separation anxiety may also be present if they show anxiety about the separation that is inappropriate to their age or stage of development.

Even though it seems that separation anxiety is something that only children face, parents who are extremely worried about the safety of their child during the pandemic may also show similar symptoms. This could indicate their own anxiety disorder.

Emotional and Physical Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety

Children and parents who have separation anxiety may have symptoms including:

  • Difficulty going to sleep, fear of the dark, and/or nightmares
  • Excessive worry about potential harm or illness happening to them
  • Children may be clingy, may fear being alone in a room, or may need to see a parent at all times
  • Adults may feel anxious about the child’s safety if they aren’t within sight
  • Avoiding activities that result in separation from the parent or child
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches and/or nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Needing frequent trips to the toilet
  • Constantly imagining worst-case scenarios

If a parent or a child exhibits three or more of these symptoms for more than four weeks, they are likely to be suffering from a separation anxiety disorder.

Separation Anxiety Treatment

While you can’t control the things that happen around you, you can learn how to control your responses and actions. When someone is being treated for separation anxiety, therapists try to help the person learn to identify and change their anxious thoughts. Then, they teach coping methods to help the individual react less fearfully to the situations that trigger their anxiety:

Remember – it is natural to worry, but you can learn to keep from going down the rabbit hole of fear by “naming” and identifying your thoughts. For instance, if you start to imagine your child getting sick in school, and then becoming sicker and sicker until you are picturing them in the hospital, noticing and labeling these thoughts as something less threatening (ie:”There go those Peter Cottontail thoughts again!”) often helps remind you that they are just thoughts. You are in charge of how you react to them.

Sometimes, however, self talk still can’t calm the fears and an anxiety disorder can begin. If you suspect that you or your child are developing an anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible because the longer the anxiety continues, the harder it can be to treat.

We Can Help You Get Past Your Fears

To get more information and help for separation anxiety and anxiety disorders, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email the Center today.

Dr. Andrew Rosen PHD, ABPP, FAACP is a Board-Certified Psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as, the Founder of The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services.


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