Community Psychiatric Centers
Monroeville, Greensburg, Monessen, and Wilkinsburg Pittsburgh

September 21, 2011

Separation Anxiety: A Kindergartner's Struggle

Written by Dr. John Carosso

Off to school blues
Have you had smooth experiences getting your kids off to school? I hope and trust that your kids have navigated this transition without undue difficulty. However, my kiddo has not been so fortunate. Much to his chagrin, Nico is starting Kindergarten, and the separation process has not been easy. Our mornings have been replete with his crying, clinging to his mother’s leg, making a run for it, and exclaiming his desire to “skip” Kindergarten.

Heal thyself
Of course, as a child psychologist, I have dealt with this problem countless times. I know what to do; but it sure can be tough to do it. How hard is it to see your child suffer? It’s our first impulse to ‘do something’ to remedy the problem and see our child smile again, as quickly as possible.

It has been very tempting to simply send Nico back to his small, private school with only a handful of classmates. I’ve talked to parents who have been equally tempted to home or cyber-school. I appreciate, now more than ever, their inclination to do so. It’s tortuous to see our kids struggle.

What to do?
The answer is to compel Nico to face his fears. Despite the impulse to do otherwise and simply wait (hope) for maturity, there is no guarantee that time will solve this problem. I’ve reminded myself of having worked with High School students who continue to struggle with school refusal due to anxiety.  So, rather than capitulate, we have remained firm but have accommodated. Nico has been given ongoing encouragement, calming strategies, he’s been driven to school, the Guidance Counselor has met him to walk to class, and he has been given some extra attention from the classroom teacher. We’ll fade these strategies over time, but so far we’re seeing progress. He’s still not too happy about Kindergarten, but the fuss is reducing.

One size fits all?
The motto for anxiety disorders is ‘face your fears’; and it’s the most effective avenue for overcoming such problems. However, the key question is how, when, and how much fear we face at any given time. Sometimes we need to face the fear all at once; but sometimes gradually. It all depends on the severity of the fear, and the child’s response to ‘facing’ the fear. Nevertheless, either way, the goal is always a progressive and unrelenting pursuit of facing the fear.

Future Anxiety?
Children who struggle with separation anxiety tend, by their very nature, to be more sensitive, anxious, and uptight about other things, and such often carries-on throughout life. However, while excessive anxiety may surface now and then, the key is to teach Nico, and your kiddo, to learn now how to manage the fear so that they control it, rather than it controlling them. He will be able to use what he learns now for the rest of his life.

I’ll keep you abreast of Nico’s progress; in the meantime, feel free to email me about any anxiety problems with your kids as well (comment below, or email me at God bless and happy separating.        

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