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Mom Seeks Help with Daughter’s Separation Anxiety about School

03 Aug

Dear Belleruth,
My eight-year-old daughter is currently experiencing anxiety about being separated from me. She is anxious about school. She sometimes gets so upset that she gets physically sick, vomits, gets headaches, stomach aches, etc.

I am at a loss as to what would be best for her….

She is very sensitive, and she had a teacher that was very loud and sometimes brash, and I think this adds to the problems as well.

I’m afraid she will miss too much school as a result of this. Any thoughts what imagery would be best for her? I am so worried about her and want to help her as best as I can.

Thanks.  
Sharon


Hey, Sharon,

I do have an idea for an audio for your child’s school anxiety, but first, I’d like to suggest you consider a couple other things as well.

Often (not always, but often) kids who are anxious about separating from their parents have parents who are anxious about separating from them.  The kid picks up the angst and runs with it.  

We see this dynamic very dramatically at drop-off time at pre-school.  Experienced teachers instruct the parent to kiss, hug, turn, leave, and not look back, in that order, at which time the toddler generally settles down – a lot faster than if the parent lingers to “reassure” them.  

So this might be a good time to examine your own feelings – about separation; school; math; loud, brash authority figures… whatever.  The more you can get a handle on your own issues and some management strategies for them, the better off your daughter will be.

One thing I’d do right away: set up a meeting with her teacher, and ask for her help with this.  Fill her in on how upset your daughter is. Make her your ally. And if you have a husband or co-parent, make sure he or she comes too.  Fair or not, having both parents in the room broadcasts a level of concern and serious intent that gets across and lends you clout. No husband?  Bring your mother; an aunt, or somebody else who knows this child well and can help advocate for her.  

And it wouldn’t hurt to ask to have the school psychologist or vice principal or a member of the special ed or counseling team in there too – make it a ‘case conference’ and ask for help from the whole bunch.

This does a lot of things: it marshals extra support and resources; broadens the base of possibilities for solutions; gets the authorities on your kid’s team; and helps you get cooperation from the teacher.  Most teachers just don’t have enough information and too many kids to deal with. So that’s your job - to let her know how bad things are getting.

I’m pretty sure this will be a good, productive meeting, and you shouldn't leave without setting up another for after a month or two. That keeps everyone on track.

I would also strongly encourage you to change your response to your daughter’s distress…  

Don’t let her stay home from school (unless she has a fever or something).  I know it feels like the compassionate thing to do, but please remember that it also tells her that you don’t think she can handle it, that she’s too frail.  This is not a helpful message…

 “Sensitive” does not equal “frail”.

 Instead, tell her gently and calmly but firmly and with zero ambiguity that you’re sorry she’s so upset, but that she needs to go to school, and that you know she can do it… that it will get better and easier.  But for that to happen, she has to show up.

If all we ever manage to do is to teach our kids to show up, we will have taught them a lot.

Okay, lecture done…  Probably way more than you wanted to know.  As for what audio program to use to help her feel more empowered, resourceful, strong and capable?  Magic Island is the bomb for an eight year old!

Good luck.  Please set up that meeting, and come to it prepared, articulate, non-accusatory and open to ideas.

All best,

br signature


Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award