By Dr. Poonam Khanna, D.O./Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Just about every parent has experienced separation anxiety. Perhaps your child cries for you when you drop him or her off at daycare, or they cling to you when a new babysitter arrives for the evening. These behaviors are not only quite common, they’re also perfectly normal, depending on your child’s age and developmental level. If your elementary-age child exhibits school refusal, it might be a sign of an underlying, clinically significant separation anxiety disorder.
It is possible to treat school refusal and improve your child’s chances of performing well in school. However, it’s important to treat early and effectively.
School refusal: the facts
In fact, separation anxiety is part of normal child development. Separation anxiety in infants and toddlers is normal until age 4. Mild stress, emotional reactions and clinging to caregivers are all symptoms of normal separation anxiety.
Should I be concerned?
If extreme anxiety surrounds your child’s school refusal, he or she might have clinically significant separation anxiety. Consider whether your child exhibits these symptoms:
What does it mean?
If your child’s anxiety progresses to school refusal, he or she might be at risk for decreased academic and social achievement later in life. Studies show that first-graders whose anxiety significantly affects their academic performance have lower performance in math and reading five years later. Additionally, children with separation anxiety might suffer depression years later or abuse substances.