Got the back-to-school jitters? What's normal vs. what's separation anxiety or school avoidance

How to help your kid deal with separation anxiety

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Going back to class or entering school for the first time can be stressful for a lot of students…and even some parents.  So, how do you deal with separation anxiety or school avoidance?

First, parents, take a look at your own behavior.  Are you experiencing stress over the child heading off to school?

"Parents have to be careful that their anxiety level doesn't spill over to the younger person.  So, the more confident that parent is…the more the child is going to feel comfortable with the situation," said Dr. Caison-Sorey, Senior Medical Director with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan .

"Be comfortable yourself with the transition so that they're comfortable.  Laugh and make sure that they understand that this is going to be one of the greatest experiences [they've] ever had.  Say, ‘You're going to meet a lot of people. You're going to get to meet teachers.  You're going to get to learn, and you're going to grow,'" added Caison-Sorey.

Of course, experiencing a few nerves on the first day of school is completely normal – for the parent and the student.

"I remember I used to get that whole red flush, you know, on the first day of school," recalled parent Kara Davis.  "Then it went away, and I was like, ‘Hey, I can do this!'"

Her own daughter Maddie is going into First Grade this year.  We asked Maddie if she had butterflies in her stomach.

"Yes," she giggled.  But she's ready to go

Ten-year-old James Berry, Jr. is moving to a new school district this fall.

Is he nervous?

"Kind of," James admitted.

But he has a good attitude about the transition.

"You just got to go with it and be brave because you don't know how it might turn out.  It could turn out good or could turn out bad.  But you still got to go with it," said James.   

But Dr. Caison-Sorey said some students don't handle major change as well as kids like James.

"If you start to see them avoiding school -- a tremendous fight to get them to go, head hurts, stomach hurts … those are red flags," she explained.

If you have ruled out a health concern, Dr. Caison-Sorey recommends you talk with the teacher or principal to see if there's a problem at school making your child uncomfortable – like bullying, being left out, or having trouble keeping up in class.

If you have a younger child going off to day care or kindergarten for the first time, parents should prepare them to be away with brief examples of separation.

"For younger than your kindergarten age kids, they can try playing peek-a-boo, hide-and-go-seek.  In other words, get the child used to absences," said Dr. Caison-Sorey. "But the one thing that's really important for them to do is say, ‘I'll be back'…then when they come back say, ‘See, I'm back!'"

If anxiety continues after the first few weeks of school, Dr. Caison-Sorey recommends you consult a therapist or counselor.

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