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How to Help Children with Separation Anxiety at School

While the start of another school year is a new adventure and can be fun and exciting for kids, it also can create separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a condition that causes excessive worrying or distress about separating from home or loved ones. While this disorder most often begins in childhood, it also can continue well into the teenage years.

Bridget Barnes, Boys Town Common Sense Parenting® Program expert, indicated that it's important to recognize the signs of separation anxiety in your children. “Parents know their children best," she said. “If you think your child is acting fearful, experiencing nightmares or throwing tantrums and having outbursts at home related to school, these are tell-tale signs they may be suffering from school separation anxiety."

Common signs of this anxiety include:

  • Not sleeping well or having bad dreams
  • Not eating properly
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Stomach aches and headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pains and trouble breathing

“Complaints of stomach aches, refusal to get out of the car, crying and clinginess are the demonstrations of school separation anxiety that we see regularly at our school," said Ashley Bartley, experienced school counselor and Boys Town Press author. She offered these tips for parents on dealing with this anxiety:

  • Adopt a quick good-bye ritual – rehearse a quick school drop-off with your child and then leave.
  • Don't walk your child into the building. Let them walk in alone.
  • Be consistent and build trust by keeping your promises. Be sure to pick them up at the time you said you would.
  • Make a teacher or counselor aware of the situation, so they can help if your child needs reassurance after you have left.
  • Allow your child to keep a transitional object like a trinket or stuffed animal with them in their backpack, allowing them the opportunity to always carry a piece of home.

“School separation anxiety is real, and parents need to acknowledge their child's feelings and not just brush them over," said Barnes. “Let your child know they are not alone and that other kids get stressed out, too."

Boys Town offers a variety of valuable resources for parents including classes like Common Sense Parenting and parenting guides, articles, videos, tools and quick tips on a variety of subjects developed by Boys Town experts. For more information, visit