Separation Anxiety at School: Nine Ways to Overcome It

At some point every school counselor deals with a child who doesn’t want to come to school. Every child and every situation is different so you have to tailor the solution to the particular student and their parents. Begin by collaborating with the parents, the child and the teacher. This is key. If you are focusing on just one piece of the puzzle (usually the child and why they are anxious) then you may miss some important information. Here are some suggestions:

  • Determine if there is a problem at school that is upsetting him/her and if so help them develop strategies for dealing with it.
  • Spend some time exploring how the student separates from parents to visit grandparents or friends. Is this a problem elsewhere or just at school? If he does well being dropped off at a friend’s house but not at school, how do they go about separating for those other situations and then how can you fill in the missing pieces for a school separation?
  • Collaborate with parents and develop a plan for the morning routine. Are things rushed and disorderly? Does everyone know what is expected and the time frame? Structure the morning so there is no time for whining or crying. Go over the plan with the child and get their input before implementing it.
  • Change some aspect of the morning routine that might be causing a problem. For instance, if Mom always takes her to school, have Dad take her and see if there are fewer problems with separation. Use peer pressure to your advantage. Can he ride the bus? Carpool with neighbors?
  • Don’t just teach kids to separate… sometimes the problem is the parent! Talk with parents and child together about how to say good bye. Coach the parent so they follow through.
  • Teach relaxation and breathing techniques that the student can use in the morning and any other time that he feels anxious. Practice them each morning as soon as he arrives before taking him to class.
  • Select a couple kids from his class who would agree to be class ambassadors and join you each morning to meet him and model how they separate from parents.
  • Create a behavior chart and have her work toward a reward through good morning behavior. Often the best reward is extra time one on one with mom or dad in the evening.
  • Use lots of praise for on task, brave morning behavior. Let the student know you believe in their ability to handle difficult things.


Books to Read:

Mom, What If I Don’t Want to Go to School Today?  By Michelle Lautane, Becky Hayes, Neil Shapiro

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